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Title: Discourses of Keidansky
Author: Richards, Bernard G.
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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DISCOURSES OF KEIDANSKY

_By Bernard G. Richards_

SCOTT-THAW CO.
_542 Fifth Avenue_
NEW YORK MCMIII


_Copyright 1903
by Scott-Thaw Co.
(Incorporated)_


_First Edition Published
March 1903_


_The Heintzemann Press Boston_



Note


The majority of these papers have appeared in the Boston Evening
Transcript, and thanks are extended to the editors not only for their
permission to reprint the same, but also for the many kindnesses they
have shown my friend Keidansky and myself.

All the papers have undergone many changes, and numerous corrections and
additions have been made.

B. G. R.



Introductory


Heretical, iconoclastic, revolutionary; yet the flashing eye, the
trembling hand, the stirring voice held us spellbound, removed all
differences, and there were no longer any conservatives and extremists;
only so many human beings led onward and upward by a string of
irresistible words.

"Outrageous heresies," some said, yet those who paused to listen for a
moment lingered longer, and as they hearkened to the harangues, marked
the words and followed the flights of fancy, it came to them that these
dreamers of dreams and builders of all sorts of social Utopias upon the
vacant lots of the vague future; these ribald rebels holding forth over
their glasses of steaming Russian tea in the cafés, or on the street
corners under the floating red flag--that they were but a continuation
of the prophets of old in Israel.

Those who paused to listen were loath to depart and some prayed for a
perpetuation of the things that came out of a throbbing heart and
soaring mind. Faint reflections here of the outpourings of a soul, but
mayhap they will shed some little light upon the inner life of that
strange cosmos called the Ghetto and point again to the Dream it has
harbored and cherished through the harsh realities of the centuries.

"Why perpetuate these things," you wrote to me, "since that life is so
fast slipping away from under my feet; practicability is urged on every
hand, and to-morrow I may be led under the canopy, perhaps elected to
the presidency of a congregation, given full charge of an orthodox
paper, or put into a big store on East Broadway, and then, what I said
would only stand out to taunt and menace me about the life that could
not be. Besides, I may become so radical that I shall not want to say
anything." Yes, we change, and the castles we build in the air become
tenement houses, and we are either the tenants, or worse, the landlords;
but "life has its own theories," and if the fine poetry of youth be
reduced to plain prose in later years, and wisdom teach us to be stupid,
why, we are still a pace ahead and those who will come after shall put
their shoulders to the Dream and move it up at least one inch nearer to
life. "And if the dreamer dies," as you said yourself, "will not the
Dream live ever on?"

Surely! And let me send you the glad assurance that death will come
sooner than the presidency of a synagogue.

You are safe, Keidansky; the orthodox will never forgive you.

We change, yet those who fail also come to their own, and even lost
souls make great discoveries. Did you not say that "Life is the
profoundest of all platitudes?"

B. G. R.

New York, March, 1903.



Contents


I     Keidansky Decides to Leave the Social
        Problem Unsolved for the Present            1

II    He Defends the Holy Sabbath                   7

III   Sometimes He is a Zionist                    13

IV    Art for Tolstoy's Sake                       23

V     "Three Stages of the Game"                   33

VI    "The Badness of a Good Man"                  41

VII   "The Goodness of a Bad Man"                  53

VIII  "The Feminine Traits of Men"                 65

IX    The Value of Ignorance                       75

X     Days of Atonement                            85

XI    Why the World is Growing Better              95

XII   Home, the Last Resort                       105

XIII  A Jewish Jester                             117

XIV   What Constitutes the Jew?                   129

XV    The Tragedy of Humor                        139

XVI   The Immorality of Principles                149

XVII  The Exile of the Earnest                    157

XVIII Why Social Reformers Should be Abolished    165

XIX   Buying a Book in Salem Street               173

XX    The Purpose of Immoral Plays                183

XXI   The Poet and the Problem                    193

XXII  "My Vacation on the East Side"              199

XXIII Our Rivals in Fiction                       211

XXIV  On Enjoying One's Own Writings              219



_DISCOURSES OF KEIDANSKY_



I

Keidansky Decides to Leave the Social Problem Unsolved for the Present


The lecture at the Revolutionary Club, Canal street, was over, the
audience rose, one by one, and ere their departure, those who made it
up, lingered on for awhile and stood in little groups of two, three and
four, and earnestly discussed the things that had been, and particularly
the things that might have been, said on the subject. The peroration was
delivered with fervor and gusto by one of the "red ones" of the Ghetto.
It was on "The Emancipation of Society from Government," a theme packed
with meaning for those present, and as almost everybody was willing to
be interviewed on his or her impressions, there was quite a little
exchange of opinion afterwards. The speaker, besieged by a small circle
of questioning dissenters and commentators, was holding an informal,
compulsory reception. A few hard workers of the sweat-shops, who
slumbered peacefully during the discourse, came up towards the platform
to tell the speaker how well they liked it.

It was during this hobnob medley of varying voices that I introduced
Keidansky to a lady, a friend of mine, who, having heard of the wicked
things he says, and the queer things he does, desired very much to meet
him.

As she greeted him the lady rather perfunctorily remarked:

"And so you are a dreamer of the Ghetto?"

"No, Madam," Keidansky answered somewhat brusquely; "I am a sad
reality."

"A sad reality? Why so?" Smilingly, pityingly, she queried.

"Oh, the reasons are not far to seek, not easy to find, and hard to
relate," he said demurely. "Besides, why augment the soporific tendency?
We have just listened to a lecture. The monstrous evil of government
still exists. The tremendous task of its abolition is still before us."

"Yes, I know; but tell me, please."

"Well, then, if I must speak of myself--and I like nothing better--I
will tell you." He cast down his eyes and spoke quickly, as quickly as
he could think of the right words, which he was trying to find with
evident effort. "A dreamer disillusionized, a great might-have-been
become small, a would-be victor vanquished, a social reformer forced by
society to reform, a herald of a new dawn lost in the night, a rebel
rejected by the rabble, a savior of society without even the ghost of a
chance to become a martyr, a visionary grown wise, an enthusiast at last
awakened to things as they are, an idealist knocked out by cold, hard
facts--don't you think it's a sad reality? I--we--wanted to do so many
things and--

"I wanted to change the world, and the world has changed me so that I am
beyond recognition. That's a little and belittling way the world has
with all who wish to save it. We--my comrades and I--wanted to transform
this earth into a Heaven, and we came near going to--the other place.
Pardon me, madam, but some of the fellows actually went there, one sent
me his regards the other day. He is at court now, working for the king
of the ward--assistant chief wire-puller, or something. Good salary;
hardly any work to do. Better than Socialism, he says, under which
system he would, at least, have to perform a few hours' work a day. But
there was a time when he would walk six miles--he had to walk then--to
hear a denunciation of the present political parties and the evil powers
that be. Now he would talk six miles to win a single vote for them. The
others who have gone have not fared so badly as he: they have not grown
so wise, have remained poor, and, more or less--honest. But as to the
things that might have been. There were great books to be written, which
were abandoned because--oh, well, it is so much bother to deal with
publishers. There was a powerful educational movement to be started in
the Ghetto, which has also been relinquished for the manifold blessings
of ignorance.

"Why, I wanted to solve the social problem, and now I do not even see my
way clear to do that. You see, we all came here with a smattering of
Socialistic ideas and Utopian ideals. We brought them over from
Russia--the land of the knave and the home of the slave--and we wanted
to see them realized in this country, where the gigantic development of
industry and the trusts were illustrating the beautiful possibilities of
Socialism. That idea appealed to us Jews, at least, above all others.
And we set ourselves with great zeal to the task of its promulgation.
The common ownership of all the means of production and distribution of
wealth, every member of society contributing to the work of the nation;
those who do not work, neither shall they eat, etc.--we had everything
down fine--too fine. If we were asked, who shall do the dirty work under
Socialism, we answered, the bosses of the present political machines.

"And we demonstrated by all the proofs furnished us by our leaders--at
the rate of ten cents a pamphlet--how the great change was inevitable
from Marx's material conception of history and our own hysterical
conception of materialism. The rich had not as yet consented to the
equal distribution of all wealth; but the poor had; they were fast
coming our way, and we were all getting ready for the great change. Oh,
when a fellow gets the social revolution into his head he can see
millions of proletarians marching to victory, and then the Coöperative
Commonwealth looms up big before him in all its Bellamy glory. But after
awhile, and a few gentle hints in the form of hard knocks--confound
it--comes the calm, sober, second or second-hand thought. Socialism?
What an arch bureaucracy, what a preposterous attempt to harness life
with a monstrous system of rules, regulations and restrictions! What an
endless chain of entangling laws, what an appalling monotony of order!
The individual gagged, bound hand and foot by an overwhelming mess of
statutes; not permitted to tell the truth unless it is officially
recognized as truth by the State. Thousands of laws to be broken every
day and as many heads to be mended. Heaven save us! you cry out, and you
come to realize that it isn't because "a lot of contemptible capitalists
have paid him for it"--as it has been alleged by some of us--that
Herbert Spencer has declared Socialism to be the coming slavery. Perhaps
Spencer wasn't wrong, after all; and the best solution of the social
problem you had becomes a terrible problem, and you lay it on the table,
or throw it into the waste-basket.

"Then comes communism, as preached by my friend John Most and comrade
Peter Kropotkin; individualist anarchism, as presented by Benjamin R.
Tucker and others. Beautiful theories these are, enchanting studies;
but, alas, only theories, so vague, so fantastic, so far off, so dimly
distant, so elusive. And the problem is so stubbornly real, so
disagreeably near, so puzzlingly capricious, and so spitefully
independent of all solutions, that--oh, well--I haven't as yet solved
the social problem, and I don't, as yet, know when I will; but perhaps
the problem will stay long enough, until I get ready to do it."

The speaker looked touchingly perplexed as he continued: "I cannot find
my way through these things, and don't know the way out. The problem is
vexing and vast; the solutions various and voluminous. The solutions are
in themselves highly problematic. Our doubts are endless, our ignorance
is infinite. Finality is the most fatal folly. Nothing is certain but
uncertainty; nothing is constant but change. Even the dream of
transformation becomes transformed. Life has its own theories and is
regardless of our patented plans. The logic of events makes our own
systems illogical. The wind of Time blows out our little labelled
lanterns. Time puts all our wisdom to shame. Life is so pitifully brief,
and the problem that has troubled the ages cannot be solved in a day."

"But what are you going to do about it?" I interrupted.

"Why, I have decided to leave the social problem unsolved for the
present," he answered. "If I could spell English well I would write a
book showing why I refuse to solve it for the present; but as it is,
those who wish to know what I write will have to learn Yiddish. However,
from what I know of the English language, I like it immensely. It is so
rich, so big, has so many words; a splendid means for concealing one's
thoughts. And the English and Americans, who master it, know it and
appreciate the fact. But I see they are putting the lights out. We'll
have to leave the hall now. Good-night, good-night. Pleased to have met
you."



II

He Defends the Holy Sabbath


"We are so happy in this country that we must celebrate even when we
don't want to," said a Hester street storekeeper, and then he quoted the
words of the Psalms in the traditional monotone: "And they who led us
captive requireth of us a song."

He stood on the sidewalk in front of his dreary and dilapidated grocery
store. It was Sunday morning. The chosen people of old who have elected
to come to the chosen country of to-day moved up and down in large
numbers, almost crowding the street. They stood in little groups idly,
and conversed loudly in a more or less Americanized Yiddish, often
lapsing into a curious English of their own. Their dress and outward
appearance denoted the degrees of their Americanization and prosperity.
There were those who live in the Jewish street, or in the immediate
vicinity, which is also within the Ghetto, and others who, after
spending their first years here, have now travelled by the road of
success to "nice, high-toned" districts, such as Allen street in the
West End. On Sunday they all come down there, for then you can meet
everybody, all the "Landsleute," you can hear all the news, and there
was a time when Sunday was the liveliest day on the street. Thus these
people walked up and down the thoroughfare, while some stood in small
gatherings and talked. Women met, chatted for a few minutes, and then
took half an hour in parting.

All the stores were closed, all the places of business deserted, and it
seemed strange and incongruous to see all these people out on the
street. It seemed as if the people were there for no purpose, as if they
had nothing to do. One wondered, at first, if it were a holiday; but the
absence of even a suggestion of the spirit of Sabbath soon made it clear
that there was no religious meaning in this day, so far as the Hebrew
people were concerned. Aside from that, the people would not be out so
if it were a holiday. They would be at home, observing and celebrating
the day. It appeared as if their idleness was forced upon them; they
suggested gatherings of workers who are out on a strike, waiting for
settlement. Upon investigation the stranger found that this was an
enforced idleness, a compulsory holiday. The Christian Sabbath was
forced by law upon the Jews, who had celebrated their Sabbath the day
before, and they could not begin the week's work until their loving
neighbors were through. And this, too, was the week before Passover, the
busiest season in the Ghetto.

My friend, the storekeeper, stood upon the sidewalk in front of his
emporium and continued his plaint, not without quaint gestures:

"They call this the freest country on earth, and yet here we have been
compelled to close up our stores two days in the week for the whole
winter. A number of us have already gone out of business, and the
Uppermost only knows what will happen with the rest. We cannot make it
pay in five days; rent is very high, profits are small, and around here
times are always hard. The poor people who trade with us only know
prosperity by sight or hearsay.

"We have preserved our Sabbath through all the persecutions and
sufferings which we have endured in the past centuries. Our Sabbath is
as dear to us as life itself, and now it is endangered by the laws of
this free land. We cannot afford to close our stores on both Saturday
and Sunday. Sunday used to be one of the best days of the week for
business. It is the first day of the week with us. It is the day after
our Sabbath, when every household needs a new supply of food. It is also
the day on which our people from the country, having a day off, come in
to buy their goods--that is, they used to come in when we were permitted
to keep our stores open on Sunday. Now all is changed, and the business
is going down and down. We will not keep open on Saturday, and the
police won't let us keep open on Sunday. It is outrageous, the way they
treat us; it is scandalous, I say."

Keidansky, the radical of the Ghetto, is quite a unique, native
character. He is the young man who once told me that he had more good
ideas than were good for him, and I believe now that he was right. I met
him one day in one of his resorts, a "kosher" lunch room of the Jewish
district. I asked him for his opinion on the Sunday question, and he
told me what follows--among other things--over a few glasses of Russian
tea:--

"So far as I'm personally concerned, one day is as good as another for a
Sabbath, and we can't have too many of them. Any day on which we can
rest and be at our best, is a holiday. I am too religious to be pious. I
can sanctify as many days as I can celebrate. The new conception of
'kosher' is whatever is wholesome, digestible and tasteful. To be really
happy is to be holy, and those who have lost this world will not be
entrusted with another. I hate uniformity, and it's very tiresome to
rest when everybody else rests; but since it would be most convenient to
suspend business and activity when the majority of the people observe
their Sabbath, since the Christians do not want to rest on the same day
that the Lord rested, and decided to get ahead of God and repose on the
first instead of the seventh day, why, let it be Sunday, then--as far as
I am concerned. Convenience is the first step to happiness, and
tolerance is the beginning of philosophy. There is nothing intrinsically
sacred in any day; it is only an artificial measure of time, and time is
only a blank space, absolutely worthless unless we write upon it with
our deeds. All days are made holy or unholy by what we do in them. So,
you see, so far as I am concerned, Saturday or Sunday, any day, will do.
Personally I have never been compelled to close up my store. I have
never been so unfortunate as to own a store. This, however, is only my
point of view.

"One of the most immoral things I know of is to force your own petty
brand of morality upon the lives of others, and I can hardly conceive of
anything more irreligious than forcing your particular religion upon
others. To respect the religion of your neighbors is a deeply religious
principle, and those who have no religion at all can almost make up for
it by respecting the religion of others. Religious liberty is one of the
most precious principles of our country, is it not? And here this
fundamental principle is rankly violated by the law, or rather by what I
think must be a silly misinterpretation of the law. There are thousands
of Jews encumbered by and compelled to rest on, if not to observe, a
Christian Sabbath. I do not like to believe with some of the Zionists
that the seed of anti-Semitism has been sown in this country and that a
good crop will soon be up to encourage the restoration of Israel to the
Turk's Palestine. I am rather inclined to think that this idea is
anti-Semitic. But certainly the stranger in this country would be
extremely surprised at the way the Jews are treated here just now in
regard to the observance of Sabbath. Who is to blame? The law or those
who enforce it? Oh, the law. But perhaps our people now suffer the
consequences of having been among the first to bring laws into the
world. When people saw that the world was too good they began to make
laws, and ever since they have kept up making and multiplying them
faster than even the lawmakers can break them. Why, one can hardly walk
two steps before he finds that he is breaking a useless law which it is
very tempting to violate. I am not so radical as some of my friends. I
do not believe that all the stupidity of the age has been incarnated
into our laws. A great deal of it has been left in our customs,
traditions and superstitions; but a law that interferes with religious
liberty in a free country is bad enough.

"I tell you it is just exasperating to walk through the Ghetto of a
Sunday now and see all the places of business closed up and all the
public resorts abandoned. The poor housewives of the Ghetto whose
cupboards are all empty and who need so many things on Saturday night,
after their Sabbath, and have to wait until Monday--it is a great
hardship for them. I tell you it's dead wrong to force this blue law
upon the people. The Hebrew, to whom the traditional Sabbath is as dear
as life, ought to receive due consideration, or rather the right to do
as he pleases, in so far as he does not harm others. The law should have
nothing to do with Sabbath, anyhow. People can never be made religious
by law. If you are going to write about it, tell the whole story and
show how ill-treated we are. Perhaps you can convert the Christians to
the spirit of Christianity. Let the voice of the chosen people be
heard!"



III

Sometimes He is a Zionist


Word flashed across the cables that Dr. Theodore Herzl and other leaders
of the Zionist movement had held a favorable interview with the Sultan
of Turkey, and the followers of the cause--the restoration of Palestine
to the Jews--were all in a flutter of gladness. As it was interpreted by
the faithful, the vague, meagre cablegram meant that the Sultan was
willing, that he was hard up, and that the Holy Land was for sale. And
who could doubt when this was announced by the New York Yiddish dailies,
under four-column headlines? No one could doubt but the jester. He said
that this only proved that the Yiddish papers also had big type in their
composing rooms. He said that the truth about a certain movement could
not be found in any party organ. In fact, if one wanted the absolute
truth about anything he would advise him to go home and sleep it off.

But serious and sane folk will ask no jester for advice. The jester can
only add to the sadness of the nations; but he cannot impair the faith
of the believers. So the Zionists were rejoicing while their opponents
were debating in the lighter vein, and laughing at the mistakes of the
so-called new Moses and the errors of his followers.

The news had also reached Keidansky's circle, and the question was
taken up again for consideration. They were all at Zarling's on Leverett
street, where the "kosher" eatables are inviting, where tea is Russian,
the newspapers Yiddish, and the attendant members of one industrious
family, ranging from several bright pupils of the grammar school up. The
poet, the young lawyer, the short-sighted medical student who has for
many years been writing a scientific work, the Anarchist orator in
embryo, the flower vendor and undiscovered inventor of an ingenious
self-lighting lamp and a wonderful fuel-saving stove--they were all
there, and, of course, Keidansky was with them. They all sat about a
little round wooden table in a corner of the big dusky store, pouring
out wisdom and drinking tea. The long row of "kosher" Vienna wurst
hanging over Zarling's brass-railed counter were mocking and menacing
the vegetarian of the group as he was munching a cheese sandwich.

They were all heartily opposed to Zionism. Each one had the solution for
the social problem, which would also settle the Jewish question, and
Keidansky said that it was highly problematic whether there was such a
thing as a Jewish problem. However, they all had plans for making this a
better world, plans which the Jews were eminently fitted to help to
carry out, and the benefits of which they would reap in the form of an
ideal state of society, with universal brotherhood, and without racial
hatred and anti-Semitism. They took Zionism severely, scathingly to
task, and as there was no Zionist present it was an easy victory. The
Jewish State was nipped in the bud, or rather abolished ere its
establishment. The poet and the orator sailed heavily into the "dubious
personality of Dr. Max Nordau," one of the leaders of the movement, and
thus again avenged themselves on the man who, in his gentle booklet on
"Degeneration," so wantonly threw so much mud on their revolutionary
idols. Reference was made to the demolishing review of the Doctor's book
by the only and original G. Bernard Shaw, and Whitman and Wagner and the
others were saved.

Keidansky listened silently to all that passed, looked into a book and
sipped his tea. If the conversation was not good he could find something
in his book, and if the book was not interesting he could at least enjoy
his tea. So he once said when told that he was not attentive and not
true to the spirit of "the order of midnight tea-drinkers."

Everybody had spoken, and I turned to Keidansky for a word. "Sometimes,"
he said, "I am Zionist, and all longings leave me and I yearn for naught
but the realization of the old, long-cherished, holy dream that our
people have carried along with them and fondly caressed through their
cruel exiles of the ages--the restoration of our never-to-be-forgotten
home, Palestine. The passion for the race returns, the old feeling of
national pride and patriotism comes back and takes its old place, the
consciousness of Israel awakens within me, and I am completely swayed by
the mastering desire to see Judea 'emancipated, regenerated and
redeemed.'

"I feel again the unity I have forgotten. The old Messianic hope looms
up big before me. The _Heimweh_ of the long-lost wanderer, the
grief-stricken, menaced nomad takes possession of me. I feel the
terrible danger of dissolution: it is so bitter to stare destruction in
the face, to contemplate annihilation of so long and so miraculous an
existence. I feel that there is no place like his old home. The homeless
Jew must return to Palestine. The big world is too small. It has no room
for him. Good or bad, he is always offensive, and he is exalted only to
be cast down into an abyss of misery. Civilization is not even civil,
and it has no hospitality for its earliest light-bearer. The world is a
wretched ingrate. We have given everything, including the means of
future salvation; we receive nothing but calumny, and are doomed to
everlasting damnation. 'We have given you your religion,' we say to the
Christians. 'That's nothing,' they answer; 'it has not affected us in
the least.' And they prove it. They keep on baiting and persecuting and
killing their neighbours, not as themselves. What must we do? Get back
our old home, though we have to pay for it. There, at least, will we
find 'a crust of bread and a corner to sleep in.'

"We must have a common cause, an object of unity, a centre of gravity,
in order to survive as a people, and this is what we can have in the
proposed Jewish State.

"And what an inspiring picture it will be of Israel, bruised and
bleeding from the travail of his long, futile travels, at last
straightening up his back and returning home to rebuild his national
life and his temple in Palestine. There he will create an ideal
republic, fashioned after the teachings of the prophets and the lessons
he has received from the teachers of the nations--a republic that will
teach the world justice and righteousness. 'And from Zion shall issue
the law, and the word of God shall go forth from Jerusalem,' and our
poets to come shall sing new psalms to God on the banks of the Jordan,
in the shades of Lebanon and in the beautiful gardens of Sharon and
Carmel. I have never been there, and though I have gone through life
without a geography, yet I seem to remember all these places. The grand,
vigorous Hebrew language shall come to life again and we shall have a
glorious literature of Israel's resurrection. Ah, how beautiful the
vision that looms up as I contemplate these things! And then--"

Keidansky ceased speaking, paused, and asked for another glass of tea.

"And then?" I asked.

"Then," he continued, "the mood passes, the feeling alters, the picture
that a fleeting fancy has thrown upon the canvas of my view, fades, a
change comes over the spirit of my dream. I remember that I am no
longer the pious little boy praying in the synagogue of Keidan, 'a year
hence in Jerusalem.' The greater vision appears before me, the larger
ideal comes back, and Keidansky is himself again. Sometimes I am a
Zionist, but only sometimes. The rest of the time I am as strongly
opposed to it as any of you, because with all my imputed universalism I
have great hopes for my people, and because I have marked out a greater
role for Israel to play in the history of the future than being a mere
little bee building a little hive in a tiny obscure corner of the
globe."

Here the medical student protested that a man cannot be both for and
against an idea at the same time, that those who are not with us are
wrong and against us, and that Keidansky is a "long distance off"--for
he said, "scientifically analyzed"--

"Scientifically analyzed, you are a bore," Keidansky broke forth
infuriated, "and don't interrupt me when I am solving problems and
making history. Be consistent, boys, and do not ask me to be so. Give
me, at least, the right that you grant to a character in fiction, the
right to be irrational, illogical, and, above all, superbly
inconsistent. I am a character in life and nothing is so fictitious. At
times, I want to be with all, feel with all, believe with all, see the
beauties of all ideals, and also point out the great fact about
them--that they are all fatal--and yet that to be without ideals is
baneful and deadly. I cannot be partial, and that is why they expelled
me from DeLeon's Socialist Labor party. Partiality is destructive to
art, and I might have been an artist, if I had had the patience and
self-abnegation and a lot of other requisites and things.

"But to return to the larger vision, which eclipses the dreamlet of
Zionism. The Jew must not be relegated to an obscure corner of the
world, to a little platform whereupon he will recite a piece in an
unknown tongue. I want a big stage for him--the world. I want a great
play for him--all its multitudinous activities. For he is a wonderful
actor. He has versatility, illusion, imagination and dramatic power. It
is an inspiring part he plays in the world-drama. So let the play go on,
and do not ask him to waste his energies and bargain with the Sultan for
a bit of barren land that has been taken from him so long ago. He has a
bigger task to perform, a larger mission to fulfil.

"He must live among the nations and help them in their upward struggle
for a higher civilization and a nobler life. If there are evils to be
abolished he will help abolish them, and if there are dire problems,
why, he has brains, which he loans more often than money. And this is
the spectacle that I gloat over and glory in seeing: Israel among the
nations, the saviour and the outcast, the redeemer and the rejected, the
revered teacher and truant student, the honoured guest and persecuted
resident, helping nations to make their histories, here and there,
writing great words in them, ministering to their arts and helping to
humanize humanity. To be persecuted and oppressed by the nations is
inconvenient and annoying, but to make music, paint pictures, write
books, sing songs, mould statues for them--how superb! Ah, what a
tragedy to be a Jew, and yet, how glorious! The nations need the Jew and
he must not desert them in their hour of need, and if he is true to his
best self and keeps on growing he will not die and vanish as a people.
In any case 'tis nobler to die for a good cause than to live in
impotence. So let the Jew remain, with whatever nation he abides, and as
a good citizen help it grow great and good, and show that Ibsen was
right when he called us the aristocracy of the race. Let not, I say to
the Zionists, the Jew be like the little boy who runs away from school
after he receives a thrashing and before he has taught his teacher a
lesson. To sacrifice for Dr. Herzl's scheme our vast opportunities in
the world, which owes us so much, and to which we are so indebted, would
be selling our birthright for a mess of pottage. So let us remain. We
can do so much in so many countries with the teachings and spirit of
Judaism. We, too, are frail and have many faults, but we can improve
where there's lots of room and plenty of opportunities.

"Life is a melodrama, and in the latter acts the long-lost brothers, Jew
and Christian, who have for so long waged war against each other, will
recognize, understand each another, and perhaps, things will end
happily, after all.

"Meanwhile we will forgive France for the Dreyfus affair, because of
her perfect prose and beautiful poetry. I will even forgive Captain
Dreyfus for having been such a bore, if he will stop writing books. Let
the Jews remain in Russia instead of going to Palestine, for think of
the love of freedom that tyranny engenders! Think how good all our
oppressions have been in that they made us love liberty and truth. Think
what a chance to shed blood for freedom there will yet be in Russia. Our
people should remain there. Things are changing. What a fine literature
it is producing, and how noble Russia is--underground.

"Away with your petty neutral little State, I say to the Zionist; the
State to be bought on the instalment plan from the Sultan, to be built
on the soil of superstition, where the Jews will go back to their
traditional customs and fall asleep. The land is barren and sterile, and
I do not believe in starvation, even on holy land. Even the orthodox
must have a religion; but they will never acquire it in Palestine. They
will cling to the old. They will not progress. The Bible--and I bow my
head in reverence for that great work of fiction--will never be edited
and revised as it ought to be, in Palestine. Judaism will not grow in
Palestine. The Jews will cling to the letter, and the spirit of it will
starve. God save the Jews from Palestine. Judaism there will not grow;
it will stagnate and die. The Jews must live among the destroying forces
of civilization. It is only when they outgrow their obnoxious
superstitions and down-dragging traditions that they become great."

The speaker waxed warm; his eyes flashed with enthusiasm, his voice grew
loud.

"I want none of the Jewish State," he said. "The whole world is holy
land. Wherever there are good, honest people is holy land, and from
every corner of the earth shall issue the law, and the word of God shall
go forth from every place, including my garret. Give us a big stage,
give us the world, give us the universe, and let me watch it from its
centre--my garret at 3 Birmingham Alley; let me watch the great and
glorious play with Israel's heroic part in all the activities and growth
and progress of the world, and I will 'thank whatever gods there be.'
And this is my larger dream; a better, more humane world, created by the
brotherhood of men, with Israel as peacemaker and fraternizer. Amen."



IV

Art for Tolstoy's Sake


It was at one of a series of lectures given under the auspices of the
Social Science Circle during the winter season. The audience which
assembled in the gloomy little hall on the third floor of an East
Broadway building was rather small in size. In announcing the lecture no
rewards had been offered to those who would come to listen to it, as
often seemed necessary; the speaker of the evening was only a member of
the club, who worked for his ideas, and not an eminent lecturer who
lived on his reputation and whose name would "draw a crowd."

The majority of young men and women of the Ghetto would not think of
wasting an evening on wisdom; they would commit no such folly, when they
could have "such a lovely time" at the near-by dancing schools. Still,
the few and the faithful were all present, and those who were thirsting
for knowledge came to be saturated. Max Lubinsky was the speaker, and
his theme, "Tolstoy's Theory of Art," was teeming with vital import.

Keidansky, as a member of the committee in charge of the literary work
of the circle, acted as chairman of the meeting. In introducing the
speaker he made a few remarks, somewhat as follows:

"Tolstoy has theories of art. Personally I am rather sorry for this,
because if he did not have them he would be a greater artist. Even as
theories of life often mar existence, so theories of art impair the
artist. Admitting that art with a purpose can help the world, it is
certain that art for its own sweet sake can create and re-create worlds.
After he had contributed some of the greatest works of art to the
literature of Russia, Tolstoy decided to find out just what art was.
During his investigations, which lasted many years, he found that the
art of the world was in great part lazy, unemployed, corrupt, suffering
from ennui, and ministering to the debauched, poor rich people, whom the
poor man ever envies; he decided that art should become useful and go to
work, and he gave it an employment--the promulgation of his ideas of
social regeneration.

"Once, Tolstoy tells us, art was primitive and simple and pious, and it
was good art and true; but during the Middle Ages, when the upper class
and the nobility became sceptical and pessimistic, and could find no
more consolation in religion, art became divorced from the church,
because they took it up as an amusement and study. And ever since art
got into such bad company--among people of culture and those who
understand it, who cherished all its wonderful enfoldments and caressed
all its capricious moods--ever since art got into such bad company, it
became as beautiful as sin, and so complex, mystic and ambiguous that
even the Russian _muzhik_ or peasant cannot understand it. And so--as it
seems to me--argues Tolstoy, the fact that the _muzhik_ cannot
appreciate 'Tannhäuser' proves conclusively that Wagner never wrote any
real music. Then, the dear old master delves deeply into all
definitions, origins and explanations of art. He finds no designation,
no description that satisfies him; they all hinge on and culminate in
beauty--in the production and reproduction of beauty that is in life, in
nature, in the worlds within us and without; and Tolstoy is rather shy
at mere beauty, and thinks it a temptress, a siren and a song; besides,
beauty, he says, changes and depends on taste, and taste varies, and as
all these definitions are too far-fetched and vague, he finds one that
is still more indefinite. Art is the communication of feeling, the
expression of the religious consciousness. Of course it is that, but
first and foremost it must have the sterling qualities of art in form
and matter.

"Tolstoy, however, would make this the chief basis and standard of art,
for his would be an art that would detract men's minds from mere beauty,
that would make them helplessly pious, that would unite mankind, make
life as monotonous as possible, and convert humanity to Christian
Anarchism.

"Every book, picture, statue and composition of music should be
degradingly moral. And the question arises, what does he mean by
religious consciousness? Walt Whitman expressed his religious
consciousness in a manner that shocked the world, and it is not at all
pleasing to Tolstoy, and yet Whitman was the most religious man that
lived in centuries. The Abbé Prevost wrote "Manon Lescaut" to express
his religious consciousness, and Robert Ingersoll delivered his lectures
to do the same; to express their religious consciousness, great
sculptors mould nude figures of women, out of worship of the divine
beauty of the human form; and St. Francis of Assisi expresses the
spiritual emotion in quite a different manner. But no, Tolstoy has a
certain kind of religious consciousness in mind, and this should be
expressed by all art and all artists in a uniform mode until we have
gone back to primitive conditions.

"I yield to no one in my admiration of the grand old man of Russia. He
is one of the noblest souls that ever walked this earth, and as an
artist, when he is at his best and does not preach, he is superb; there
are few like him. But when he begins to philosophize and moralize, few
can rise to the height of absurdity as quickly as he can. As it seems to
me, Tolstoy's position is something like this:

"'Christianity is a colossal failure,' he says, 'so let us all become
Christians. Our civilization is dreadfully slow in its advance; it has
not as yet outgrown its barbaric primitiveness, so let us all go back to
barbarism. All government is evil, so let us be governed solely by the
teachings of a man who lived nearly two thousand years ago, a man who
was pure and who made no study of the wicked conditions of our time. It
is only thus that we can become free--by a circumlocutory process of
self-abnegation, self-sacrifice and self-annihilation. Let us become
slaves of the theory of minding our neighbors' business and we will be
free. The power of will is the greatest thing in the world; he who
follows his free will becomes a slave and is doomed to damnation. Let us
be ourselves; let us stifle our feelings, become altruists and get away
from ourselves. All government is tyranny; let us abolish all
government, adopt a rigid, ancient, mystic morality, and let everyone
become his own tyrant. Our morality is a failure; it has produced a
false art; therefore we must have a true art which will promulgate our
morality. Art that exists for mere beauty cannot be understood by the
great masses, therefore let us have an art for the masses which will be
beautiful. Our Christianity is a failure, therefore we must convert art
to Christianity and send it forth as a missionary of the Gospels as I
interpret them.' This, as I see it, is the queer position of Tolstoy,
but his theories are exceedingly well-meant and highly interesting, and
I am glad that we are to have a lecture this evening on Tolstoy's
theories of art by one who is a thorough student of Tolstoy and to whom
the master's teachings are near and dear.

"I must not forget that I am not the speaker of the evening; I merely
wanted to hint at the importance of the subject so that you may give it
due attention, but I must not transgress upon the time of the lecturer,
for the way of the transgressor, according to Tolstoy and others, is
said to be hard. Besides, the chairman is not supposed to have any
opinions; his duty is only to eulogize the speaker--in a merciless
manner--and to introduce him with a few appropriate, well-chosen and
ill-fated remarks. The chairman at best is only a relic of barbarism,
and should be abolished."

And Keidansky at last introduced the speaker, his friend, Max Lubinsky,
who, after treating his audience to a bit of satire at the expense of
"the eloquent and loquacious chairman," proceeded to give a simple,
sympathetic and modest interpretation of Tolstoy's "What is Art?"
illustrating his talk with copious reading from the book, and now and
then referring to his written notes. It was a comprehensive review of
Tolstoy's book he gave, and as to his own ideas on art he did not
sufficiently differ from Tolstoy to have a formidable opinion on the
matter, and he had too much reverence for the great Russian to voice it
just then. The presiding officer did not close the meeting without again
remarking that "art with a purpose is art with an impediment," and that
"the only excuse of art is its uselessness." From what I overheard after
the meeting I observed that there was a strong anti-Keidansky feeling in
the gathering. He had evidently gone too far, had voiced his notions too
freely, and had no right to take up so much time in speaking. Besides,
most of those present were social reformers, tremendously in earnest,
and they felt, more or less, that Tolstoy was right; that art was only
great as an advocate.

As we were walking together, homeward bound, a little later, I said:
"My dear fellow, you've got yourself into trouble. They are all up in
arms against you and your awful heresies. You have almost delivered the
lecture of the evening yourself, and the circle won't stand for it. Next
thing you know you'll be court-martialed."

"I almost expected that this would happen," said Keidansky, "but I had
to say what I did. It was an imperative duty. I am only sorry that I
forgot a few more things I had on my mind to say. Audiences confuse me
and make me forget my best points. I suppose they will call a special
meeting and pass resolutions to condemn me and my proceedings. But this
will only prove the superiority of individuals over society. Before a
society can pass resolutions, the individual acts. I suppose they'll say
lots of things now. They will say I was trying to make epigrams.
Epigrams are always hateful--to those who cannot make a point in a
volume. They will say I was uttering platitudes. After you convince
people that there are such things as platitudes in the world, they begin
to find them in everything you say. I once had an uncle (he is still
living, only he is very rich, and so I disowned him), and at one time I
explained to him the theory of our moving along the lines of least
resistance. A short while after that we had a very intimate interview
and my uncle told me that I was a lazy, good-for-nothing visionary; that
I did not want to do anything, and moved along the lines of least
resistance.

"I had to say what I did because I did not want the people to go off
with such crude and false conceptions of art. I knew that Lubinsky would
not dare to differ from Tolstoy. He adores the old man. So do I, but I
cannot afford to give up my mind to any one--not until I become a
respectable member of the synagogue, and join a number of secret orders.
Then it does not matter. The worst thing about a charming, noble
personality is that our admiration for it gets the better of our
reasoning power and we become ready to follow it in all its follies.
This is the regrettable influence that Tolstoy has exerted upon
Lubinsky. Thus our emancipators enslave us. 'Be yourself,' says Emerson,
and you become an Emersonian.

"But there is something else I wanted to say on this question of art. We
Jews anticipated and lived in perfect accord with Tolstoy's theory of
art--that art must be religious and must be burdened with a message, or
a purpose--and the result is that we have no fine arts of our own,
except poetry, which has more sighs and sobs and tears and piety than
music and beauty. Of course, the reason for the absence of art among us
is one of the commandments, which forbids the making of images, and oh,
I cannot tell you how sorry I am that this commandment was ever
observed. I do not object so much to the other nine commandments, but
for this one I can never forgive my people. And here, by the way, is an
example of what the religious consciousness can do for art.

"There is a religious consciousness which makes people unconscious of
religion. 'The piety of art is the quest of the unattainable,' and the
more freedom you give it from missions the greater the mission it will
fulfil. One more answer to the theory of art for Tolstoy's sake: Here is
a fable that occurred to me as I was listening to the lecture. I have no
time to elaborate and polish it, but I give you the right to plagiarize
it.

"'You must pardon me,' said Art to Beauty, one day, 'if I do not pay so
much attention to you as I used to, but this is a world of evils and
problems, and I will have to leave you for awhile and go forth and help
to make a better, juster system of society.' And Art went forth to fight
the battle of the poor and the oppressed, and Beauty waited wistfully
for its return, alone and deserted, withered and faded. After many years
Beauty went in quest of her lost lover, Art, who had not returned, and
she came upon a field of battle, and there, transformed into rebel
warrior, was her lost lover, Art. And even as she gazed, a shot was
fired from the enemy, and it pierced the heart of Art, and he lay
prostrate and dead before her."



V

"Three Stages of the Game"


We had been speaking of "the only law that never changes"--the law of
change: of the glorious ascent of the youthful nonconformist, and of the
sad descent of the older and wiser compromiser--a theme, by the way, as
old as age and yet as new as youth. We all had friends we once looked up
to and now looked down upon, and we indulged in a few reminiscences.
Every army had its deserters, every cause its traitors, and the
crusaders who carried the red flag also changed their minds, lost heart
and ran home.

"Oh, the flesh-pots of Egypt. Even the vegetarians cannot forget them,"
remarked my companion. "They who led the strikes among the sweat-shop
workers in the course of time became heartless capitalist bosses; and
there were Anarchists, who wanted to abolish all laws, who became
lawyers and went into politics. One by one many of the promising young
men of the Ghetto broke their promises and left the uplifting movements
they brought into existence. Some died, some married for love of money,
some took wives unto themselves, some became lawyers and doctors, some
dentists, some wire-pullers, some went into politics, and some moved to
Brooklyn. Compromise? They all hated that word and then--they
compromised.

"Recently I have been thinking of three particular stages of the
game--this grim and gruesome little game called life," said Keidansky.
"The first is when we sternly demand the truth, the second when we ask
for justice, and the third--when we beg for mercy--

"There you are with your eternal questions. It was Zolotkoff who once
called the Jew, bent and bowed by his sorrows and fearful of the
future--it was he who called the Jew a living interrogation point. You
just reminded me of the simile. But no; I cannot tell you at which of
the three stages I have arrived. I am at all and at none. What I really
want I never ask for, because I hardly know what it is, and cannot
formulate the demand. If I knew just what they were, perhaps I wouldn't
want these things. Yet sometimes I think if I could play, if I could
play the violin, I would express these starved longings and stifled
yearnings. I could not only tell, but in the expression perhaps find
what I want. In words I cannot do it; they are so formal, definite,
rough. The other day my friend, the violinist, came and played for me.
'I'll tell you a story,' he said, and he took his violin and played--a
beautiful, thrilling story. The Unknowable was revealed for a moment;
and it occurred to me then that if I could play, I, too, might perform
the miracle of expression, which proves the divinity of music. As it is,
I cannot tell my desires; and yet I want but little here below and I
don't want anything up above--"

"You don't mean to renounce your part of the world to come?" I asked.

"I don't know that it is coming to me," said Keidansky. "Besides I am a
little bit 'shy' on the world to come. I am afraid it is fashioned too
much on the style of this one, and down here, you know, I am sometimes
tired of everything. The entire panorama is so farcical, the whole game
so monotonous, and our heroics are so ludicrous. The valetudinarians
make me sick. I am weary of 'The Book of Jade,' and clever people are
awful bores. Yes, I am somewhat afraid of the second story they call the
other world, for it may really come, and history might repeat itself,
even up there.

"The mortal fear of oblivion makes one crave for immortality; but,
perhaps, one life is enough. No matter how sinful, or how saintly, a
human being has been, one world is sufficient of a punishment. Virtue is
its only reward; evil is its own punishment. The life beyond--is beyond.
Let it stay there.

"Promises of Heaven and threats of the Midway do not move me so much
now, for the chances are that they are one and the same thing, and this
is the only place we are sure of and ought to make the most of. There is
some good down here in spite of the reformers. The good is right beside
the evil, and we can seldom tell the difference. The saint and the
sinner often exchange pulpits and each proves the imperfection of the
other. Paradise is right next door to Purgatory; in fact, you want to
be careful when you are around that way lest you enter the place you
weren't sent to. We ought to make the most of it, I say, and I know I am
right, because I have been condemned by a number of orthodox rabbis."

"You contradict yourself," I said.

"I do it to be consistent," said Keidansky.

"But I have digressed and transgressed, and all because of your useless
question. As I was saying, when we are young, ignorant, innocent and
inexperienced, we sternly demand the truth, the whole truth, and nothing
but the truth. We come to enlighten this dominion of darkness, to right
a world gone wrong and to guide a poor and deluded mankind to the
eternal verities. Iconoclasticism becomes our creed, infidelity our
religion. We are to repeal the world's laws, to shatter its idols, to
demolish its traditions, and we at once reject its standards and ideals
because they are not founded on truth.

"We question, investigate, analyze, and the imagination of youth works
wonders. We are all gods in our dreams. The re-creation of the world is
but an easy task. With all the modern improvements, it can be done in
less than seven days, it seems. Glorious quest of truth and the golden
goal, enchanting castles in the air, of which youth is the architect!
Have you ever been young? I was born old, yet I know something about it.
And for the rest, you know what happens. Most of the things in the
world end sadly, because in the ending of a thing there is sadness. We
find, at last, that what we wanted cannot be had for the asking; that we
must pay for it with our lives; that the truth is--there is no
truth--that as much of it as we find is often more than we want; that
illusion is a necessary element in the composition of the world; that
everything is relative and the quest of truth is a relative virtue. I
hate the compromiser and deserter and I have nothing to say in their
defence, but change is in the very nature of things, and sooner or later
we must recognize that absolute truth does not exist, and we must accept
the old foundation for building whatever we can in the world, and
realize that perfection is a long and laborious process of becoming.

"Later on we really see that all is for the best, that the pessimists
are here as an object lesson, and we conclude that it is folly to be too
wise. We cannot repeal the world's laws all at once, but we can break
them gradually. There is much wisdom in folly and some truth in
falsehood, too. The stupidity of the world is an absolute necessity: the
world's work has to be done. So, at least, we decide, and we abandon the
impossible quest after the absolute truth and become satisfied with
justice, mere justice. We only ask for fair play. At this stage of the
game we are already hardened and inured to things, and we manage to get
along with justice, such as it is when we get it or buy it in court. At
this time, if we are prosperous, we read and relish Omar Khayyam, the
philosophy of whom is well expressed by the street urchin when he says,
'I don't give a hang.' And we also laugh at the poor fools who seek
after the truth. Later on still, when we grow weary and weak and cannot
have justice--are not crafty or strong enough--we come down a little
lower and beg for mercy. Thus we reach the third stage of the game."

The speaker paused for a moment, watching a little boy who was trying to
float his little boat on the pond--for we were lucubrating in the Park,
where we met by accident.

"That's all very well," I said, "but what have you to suggest?"

"Why, nothing that would make a sensation in a newspaper," he said, "but
something that by chance or miracle may have some reason in it. It is
this: Let the youth continue his noble, heroic, if melodramatic, quest
of truth, that those who grow wiser and weaker may get justice. Let the
young strive for the impossible and the possible will be attained, and
those who ask for justice will really have it. Let them question and
analyze and shatter idols and become bombastic and hysterical and build
castles, and dream and disturb the order of the world--and let us admire
their _heilige dumheit_--that some day those who have grown feeble may
find at least fair play. The more the world will tolerate the
extravagances of youth, the more it will benefit by its achievements.
Let the wildest imaginations have free play and things will grow fairer
and more fair. Let them dream. To be disillusioned is a trifle; but
never to have dreamed is terrible. Finally, this earth will be turned
into a heaven by all those who have failed to do it.

"And those who have grown older and sadder and merely ask for justice,
let them really demand it with all their might, and so shall their
efforts not be in vain, and so shall those who beg for mercy receive
it--or none beg for mercy. If those who ask for justice would only be
just to those who are in the other stages of the game, and if those who
beg for mercy would only be merciful! No matter at what stage, let all
play fairly and honestly and be tolerant of others, and all things will
tend towards ultimate decency. Again, were there more demanding truth,
there would be fewer satisfied with mere justice, and none would beg for
mercy. At any rate, more truth, more justice; more justice, more mercy,
or no need of it at all. If only every one would want something, mean
something, _do_ something. Personally I cannot do very much, for you see
I am somewhat of a preacher myself. Going on the 'elevated,' are you?
Sorry for you. Good-bye."



VI

"The Badness of a Good Man"


I was looking for Keidansky, but he was nowhere to be found. He was not
at home, and my visits to a few of his favorite resorts were also in
vain. Then they told me over at Schur's bookshop on Canal street, that
there was an entertainment being given by the Alliance on that evening,
and Keidansky was to contribute an essay to the literary programme, a
paper on "The Badness of a Good Man." "It serves them right," I said,
and I forthwith betook myself to the dreary quarters of the Alliance,
which formed the intellectual centre of our Ghetto. The exercises were
already in progress. The hall was packed; hardly any standing-room left.

The pictures of Karl Marx and Michael Bakounin--the respective fathers
of Socialism and Anarchism--looked down upon a pious and picturesque
congregation of people who swore by their names; the same studious,
serious, troubled, yet occasionally smiling faces of young men and young
women of the Jewish quarter--seekers after light among the people that
walk in darkness. The hall was brightly illuminated. The people were in
their best. It was Sunday evening. Even Keidansky had condescended, or
compromised, and paid some attention to "external appearances," this
time. He brushed his clothes "for the occasion," as he once remarked.
At any rate, there was some change in his attire differing from his
usual negligent appearance. This was an entertainment. There were
several readings and they were all teeming with trouble, and propt with
problems. The recitations, well given by several young women, were
compositions like Hood's "Song of the Shirt," William Morris's Socialist
chants; the songs of suffering and joyless toil, sung in Yiddish, were
by Edelstatt, Rosenfeld and Goldstein. The people over here enjoy their
sorrows, it seems.

Keidansky was already on the platform when I came in; in fact, he was
already reading his paper. His paper was a typical utterance of the
iconoclast that he is, and craving the indulgence of the reader, I quote
here as much of it as I copied then and there, ere we come to the
conversation. I do not know what he said before I entered, but after
that he hastily and nervously read somewhat as follows:

"He is a good man and a worthy, and a useful member of society. All his
neighbors say so, and he stands well in the entire community. His
friends are legion. He is always ready to do them a good turn, and they
are in turn ever ready to reciprocate. He lives, acts, thinks and speaks
like all other good men; and he is exceedingly popular and highly
respected. He is tolerant. He agrees with everybody on almost every
conceivable subject. He is a good man. This is a free country, and every
man has a right to his honest opinion--provided he is not a crank, or
eccentric, and does not make himself obnoxious by differing with
everybody. In that case, of course, the man is beyond recovery; he is
lost to all shame and to the good old political parties and principles.

"He respects every honest opinion and sentiment, and when he does meet a
man who differs from him, why, he gently and adroitly changes the
subject and smiles irresistibly and talks pleasantly, anyway. Oh, well,
we are bound to differ on some things--but what is the difference so
long as we both vote the same ticket? Have a cigar? When the man does
not vote the same ticket it is really too bad, you know; but there is
still a smile and a pleasant word.

"His generous contributions to the charities of the city are well known.
The newspapers frequently have paragraphs in praise of his philanthropic
deeds. The press is one of our greatest institutions. It is the
palladium of our liberties, and a great medium of advertising. There are
always good words, cigars and drinks for the newspaper 'boys.' They are
a lot of fine, clever, noble fellows--according to the press, and he
believes it. He is a good man.

"He travels through life in the good old-fashioned way. He is guided by
the morality of our common ancestors, abides by their time-honored
customs and reveres their sacred traditions. He thinks as his fathers
thought, whose fathers thought as their fathers thought, and whose
fathers--never thought anything. He is a good man, and he is agreeable.
He once almost agreed with a Christian Scientist--he sold him a parcel
of property. Christian Scientists have faith. It is good to do business
with people who have faith. There is always much truth in what other
people tell him, only we are bound to differ on some things, as he
always says.

"He is a patriot and his lungs are ever at the service of his country.
It is my country, whatever it does or does not do. Let us give three
cheers for the stars and stripes, and hang the social reformers. The
people are always right and they know it. He believes in the people, and
they have faith in him. They have already sent him to the Board of
Aldermen, and there are many other places they may send him to. There is
a Congress at Washington, and many good men are sent there. He is
persistently honest. His honesty has been brought to the notice of many.
'Honesty is the best policy' is a line ever on his lips. His reputation
for veracity is enviable. It pays to tell the truth, he says. He tells
the truth as he sees it, and he sees it as everybody else does.

"He is the most active member of the largest congregation in his
district, and is considered a strong pillar of the church--even of
society at large. He gives aid and succour to the weak and the failures;
but he is always on the side of the strong and the successful. It is the
largest movement in his community, social, political, or religious, that
receives his staunch support. And it so happens that he is ever in
accord with the tendencies of the largest movement.

"He is a good man. He is eminently practical, and he harbors a horror
for visionaries and their Utopias. He loathes agitators and rebels,
disturbers of peace and order. Peace, order, accuracy, submission,
obedience, duty--and uniformity is a good word, too. Children, you must
always abide by the powers that be, and obey your parents; they know
better what is best for you. They have buried many children. Gentlemen,
respect the flag. This is a free country, and the Government can do as
it pleases with the people.

"Vague, unexpressed longings of a new time, hungry desires of the age,
wistful heart-whispers for a freer, higher life, muffled music of
far-off seas, stifled and half-drowned voices of the submerged Ego
crying 'I'--these do not disturb his dreams. He has no dreams. Far be it
from him to be touched by the shapeless, new-born aspirations which are
suspended in the air waiting for some one to give them form. He is a man
of facts, and lends no credence to far-away fictions. His health is so
good that he is not easily affected by theories and books.

"He is consistent and hardly ever changes his mind; at least not more
often than do those who draw up the platform of his political party. His
intrepid loyalty to his party cannot be forgotten as long as he lives;
he stands as solidly within its ranks as a mortared-in brick within a
wall. When he says a thing it is said, and he keeps every promise he
makes, good or bad. He prizes highly and is keenly jealous of his
reputation, and believes in living up to it. He will not differ from you
on matters of art or literature, because, well, because, as he says, he
is not well up in these things, and besides, it is all a matter of
taste, is it not? But he likes a good old-fashioned melodrama; don't
you?

"He is a good man. Fathers point him out to their sons as a paragon of
virtue. He never swerves nor deviates from the path of duty and
righteousness, as he sees it. He is indissolubly linked in the great
chain of real, practical, daily events of the world, and he never chases
any phantoms--not he. He never fights with fate. He takes things as they
come, and many things come his way. Providence seems to be on his side.
He never complains of the powers that be in heaven or on earth. God made
the world, and no man can ever change it. All that is, is well for the
industrious and the successful. There is always room on the top for
those who can crawl up. He adapts himself to all circumstances, and
profits by most of them. He moves along the lines of least resistance;
is ever drifting into his proper niche. He will 'get there.' Where he
cannot be aggressive, he is agreeable, and usually gains his end. He
never falters, nor fails to fall in line with the rest. It is always
safest to be on the safe side. He positively believes in the benefits
that accrue to those who are negative.

"He possesses all the negative virtues of his honored ancestors, who now
slumber beneath their eulogistically inscribed tombstones. He meekly
follows their present example of abstaining from most of the vicious
pleasures of life. He is a good and respectable man, and he never lets
his desires run loose; they must abide by certain laws.

"He is deeply interested in all matters concerning public improvements.
Why? The motive of a man's interest in public affairs is often a private
matter; but the impeccable reputation of a good man should be a
sufficient shield against the scrutiny of the inquisitive. The
inquisitive will never go to heaven, and they will 'get it' here on
earth.

"He is modest. He frequently complains of the credit and the honors that
are given him by the community--lest his hearers should not know that he
bears the burden of demonstrative public admiration. He is profusely
grateful for all he receives, which, he constantly protests, is so much
more than he deserves. He only tries to do his duty in his humble way.
He is effusively cordial and friendly. He has a pervasive,
confidence-inspiring smile for all who pass him, known or unknown. He
clasps your hand firmly and shakes it long. He is congenial even to the
congealing.

"He is a self-made, self-advertised man. He has affluence; he has
influence. His exemplary character is worthy of emulation, as the
newspaper and his political friends say; and his emoluments are not few
nor far between. He is intensely, surprisingly religious. The creed of
his fathers is good enough for him. He questions not, nor doubts--not
he. A good, devoted churchman, he is a regular attendant; and he never
sleeps nor slumbers, no matter how long and how old the sermon be. He
is a brave man. The good souls of his district are most lavish in praise
of his piety.

"Alas, it is not possible to enumerate all his splendid deeds, his
high-classed qualities and his standard virtues. But, then, that is
hardly necessary. They speak for themselves, or for their owner. He is a
good husband and father, and his word is law unto his wife and children.
He is an excellent citizen, a loud-mouthed patriot. He is a good man. He
is going to heaven. And, oh, I do wish he would go there soon!"

After I had listened to this scandalous screed and other sombre and
shadowy things that were on the programme of the entertainment, I
finally overtook the offender, and shook hands with Keidansky. "I've
been looking for you," I explained, "and they told me you would be here,
so I came, and caught you in the act."

"Glad you showed up," he said; "but I am rather afraid. Do be lenient. I
cannot defend nor explain everything."

"Well," I began, leniently, "according to this harangue of yours, we
would have to change our conception of goodness and morality, and--"

"No, we don't have to," he answered impatiently; "but we can't help it;
it is always, always changing. The good man of one age is the dead man
of another. Between vice and virtue there is often no more than a change
of mind. Goodness is only a point of view, and morality ceases to be
moral after awhile. What's a good thing to do to-day will, in all
probability, be the best thing to avoid to-morrow. It's all a question
of time; no standard stands forever. Why, the coat of tar and feathers
is going out of fashion, and even in New England, it's no longer a crime
to be happy. Morality is but an arbitrary agreement, subject to change.
It is a catalogue of certain accepted virtues, which should be edited,
revised, and reprinted, from time to time; for many of the articles in
this booklet go out of fashion, and otherwise become stale, obsolete,
and even obnoxious. At best, the goods are not what they are represented
to be by the drummers, that is, the preachers, when it comes to their
delivery--when it comes down or up to real life. What do you think of
virtues that consist either of doing nothing, or of doing things for no
other reason than that they have bored other people to death. The
catalogue is full of them, and just now we have come to a time when our
current conventional morality is a kind of mortality--dead and
deadening. It holds us down to outworn, oppressive systems, customs,
regulations, and the uniformity of things is stifling.

"It prevents growth, it impedes progress. We cannot live as free,
untrammelled individuals. We must be citizens, members of society; we
must be what other people call respectable.

"Everybody owns everybody else. Everybody follows, no one leads his own
life. No one has any initiative. Everybody examines your moral conduct,
and dictates the term of your existence. How can one have a religion, if
he must live up to the faith of everybody else? How can we live if we
must follow the dull and noble examples of those who are dead and never
knew any better? Everybody listens to what the people say, and no one
hears his own voice. This is an age of machinery. There are no more
individuals; there are automatic walking and working machines which have
been wound up by public opinion to run so many hours according to a
well-approved system of regulations. 'What's the use of common-sense?'
says a character in one of Jacob Gordin's plays. 'What's the use of
common-sense when we have a Constitution?' Thousands of fools are
kneeling before the fetish of public opinion. 'What will the people
say?' they all ask. Nothing, I say, nothing. The people never say
anything. They only talk. Individuals say it all. Those who depend upon
others, who see strength in union are weaklings. United we fall, divided
we stand. Those who dare to tread in the path of freedom, who dare to do
things and say things, who own their bodies and never raise any
mortgages on their souls, who make their own morality--they are the
people who advance the world's progress and help to civilize our
civilization. They have nearly always been called bad by their
contemptible contemporaries--yet they represented all the goodness worth
having. God give us the men who have virtue enough to do as they
please, and courage enough to shock their neighbors.

"But it's all system and monotony and imitation with the majorities, and
a lot of slavish, knavish, puny and pious little beings, afraid of their
own voices and not daring to draw their breath any more often than their
neighbors do, and with whom morality and sanity is a matter of majority
rule--beings like these are called the good people.

"This idea must be reversed. We must come to realize the utter badness
of the conventional, crawling, yours-truly-for-a-consideration, good
people. Also we must come to realize the supreme goodness of so-called
bad people--people who are too religious to go to church--to whom
tyranny of any kind is the height of immorality, and slavery the depth
of it. We must have more bad people to save this wicked world. And
heaven save us from most of the good people of to-day.

"It is one of those 'dumb-driven cattle' that I tried to pay my respects
to in my paper--one of those cattle that here in democratic America
become leaders of men. They do not know that the progress of the world
has been built upon discarded customs and broken laws--but let us go
down the street. I must have a drink of something before I can solve the
problem to your satisfaction--or even convince myself that I am right."



VII

"The Goodness of a Bad Man"


Perhaps it was to the disgrace of the Alliance that Keidansky's
disquisition, his merciless tirade against the good man, was received
with some show of hand-clapping favor; and it may be to the credit of
the membership that there were those in the audience who were surprised,
shocked and startled, who dissented from and resented his utterances. At
any rate, the dissenters and commentators stirred up a discussion, and
for several days after that it was a topic of conversation and
disagreement at the club, at the cafés and such places where our circles
would congregate. Those who dissented and disagreed with the man who
questioned the very bases of our morality said many, varying things and
not all things were said in Keidansky's presence. And he? Sometimes he
would say a word in explanation, or his defence, and for the rest he
listened, looked wise, smiled and relished every attack made against
him. His opponents finally agreed that his was a one-sided, partial
view, and they told him that, after all, it was better to have a good
man than a bad one.

"But it yet remains to be proved," he argued, "that the average good man
is not a whole lot worse than the so-called bad man."

They all dared him to prove it, to present the other side of the case,
the goodness of the bad man. "I don't care to prove anything," said
Keidansky. "'Even the truth can be proved,'" he quoted a favorite
decadent; "but if you want me to, I'll try to show you the other side of
the story, as it seems to me. I'll write it to-night or to-morrow, and
read it to you all, say, on the evening of the day after to-morrow, at
the Alliance." We all agreed to be there, and accordingly assembled at
the appointed time, and waited until Keidansky appeared with a folded
manuscript sticking out of his coat pocket. He was all out of breath. He
had been walking very fast so as to get here "just in time to be late."
He had just finished his composition. "My lamp went out last night," he
explained, "and so I had to do it all this afternoon, and just got
through." And so here is his paper as he read it to us on "The Goodness
of a Bad Man."

"He is a bad man, a worthless, useless member of society. Most of his
neighbors say so, and he does not stand well in the community. His
friends are few, with long distances between. He would not go far out of
his way to do a fellow a good turn; does not believe in favours, he
says, and nobody cares much for him. He lives, acts, thinks, speaks like
a bad man, and to say nothing of popularity--very few of us have
any--but who will have any respect for a man that scorns, jeers, sneers
and pokes all manner of fun at respectability? Respectability, he says,
is a mark of public formality behind which to hide private rascality,
and the prettier the mask the more ugly the face.

"He disagrees with nearly everybody on almost every conceivable
subject. No matter what other people think of his opinions, he actually
believes them to be right. He is a bad man. He is not at all tolerant.
When he disagrees with any one--and he does that most of the time--he
bluntly and boldly tells him so up and down, and he is ever ready to
state his reasons and argue the case. He will not conceal his
convictions, even when he is your guest. Of course, this is a free
country, and every man is entitled to his opinion--but one should have
some tact, politeness, diplomacy, courtesy. If every one had these there
would not be so much difference of opinion and discord in our land, and
there would be more peace on earth. Polite people do not try to force
their opinions upon others.

"Polite people have no opinions that differ from those of others. I
doubt whether it is polite to have any opinions at all. The aristocracy
is setting a good example. It never thinks. Persons who think too much
are ever behind the times. But even if one has a right to his opinion,
he certainly has no right to be cranky, eccentric, and disturb the
mental peace of the community with his queer, revolutionary notions.
Stubborn, stiff-necked, hard-headed, determined, impulsive, he is ever
present with that ubiquitous mind of his, ever ready to give everybody a
piece of it. Considering the frequency with which he gives everybody a
piece of his mind, I wonder that it is not all gone by this time.

"He is a bad man. He is aggressive and arrogant. His faith in himself
is offensive, his self-reliance, self-satisfaction unbearable. He has
too much respect for himself to follow the dictates of others. His life
is a life, he says, and not an apology for living; he will have to pay
for it with death and wants to make the most of the bargain--live fully
and freely in his own way, however reprehensible. He does not want his
neighbors to love and interfere with him--unless he cared for their
affection. He says it would be a sin to love his neighbors if they did
not deserve his love. The welfare of the community, I heard him say,
depends upon the absolute freedom, the self-salvation of each
individual. No one can ever do anything for another unless he has made
the most of his own life--good or bad. Self-preservation in the end
prompts us to do most for others. Selfishness is a pronounced form of
sanity. Altruism has enslaved the world. Egoism will save it. And I
could quote you such monstrous heresies as will make your hair stand on
end. He is a bad man.

"The world belongs to those who take things for granted. He will not
take anything for granted and that's why he has to take more hard knocks
than anybody else. He impiously questions, doubts, examines,
investigates everything on the face of the earth and--God save us--even
the things that be in heaven. He is a living interrogation point, ever
questioning the wisdom of this world and the promises of the one to
come. Nothing is so sacred as to be above his scrutiny; he has little
reverence for any of our glorious institutions. He says they are the
handiwork of men and often as crude and as useless as men could make
them. Whatever has been erected can be corrected, he says. He thinks
lightly of our laws; thinks they are at best but a necessary evil and
that in the course of human events it becomes necessary to abolish all
evil.

"He is a bad man. He does not even recognize the sacred authority of
tradition, and has no decent regard for precedent. Precedent, he argues,
only proves that some people lived before us and did things in a certain
way. He does not even--well, think of a man who doubts the holy right of
the majority! He does not believe that the majority is always right; in
fact, he contends that it is always wrong. By the time the majority
discovers a truth it becomes a falsehood, he avers. The majority only
thinks it is always right. The majority is but another word for
mediocrity. He does not heed what the people say. The monster called
majority, in spite of his many heads, does very little thinking. What
the people say seldom amounts to a meaning. Morality, he argues, is that
which is conducive to one's happiness, without interfering with or
injuring his fellow-men. To be moral is to live fully, freely,
completely. Morality has nothing to do with the abnormal stifling,
starving, thwarting of instincts and feelings.

"A truth, he told me, is a truth, and a principle is a principle,
whether it is held by many or by one. Numbers no more make right than
might does.

"'The strongest man on earth,' he says, 'is he who stands alone,' and he
always quotes a man named Ibsen. He is a bad case. 'Customs and
conventionalities be hanged,' he says, 'I have my own life to live and
mean to manage it in my own way. I have laws of my own and must obey
them.' I heard him say it myself, and I wonder what he means by these
things. There are always those who know better than you what is good for
you, but you don't want to mind them, he told me. The most advisable
thing in the world is never to take any advice. There may be those, he
once remarked, who have lived longer than you have, but they have not
lived your life.

"He has a mania for principles. I think that is a chronic disease with
him. He imagines it is all one needs in life. There is not a material
advantage in the world but he would forfeit it for a moral principle, as
he calls it. 'Ideals are very well,' I once said, 'but one must live.'
'Not necessarily,' he answered. 'One must die, if one cannot live
honestly.'

"Always he talks about the so-called social problem of the age. I do not
know just what that is; but if there is such a thing as a social problem
it is how to abolish social reformers. This man is a social reformer,
and he has some scheme of his own how to reconstruct society on a basis
of what he terms justice and truth. In the promulgation of this scheme
of his he foolishly spends much of his spare time and not a little of
his money--and Heaven knows he has not any too much. But he says he
does it all for his pleasure; that it is out of sheer selfishness that
he would uplift the fallen and elevate the lowly. He is a bad man. It is
no disgrace to be poor, of course; but it is criminal of the poor not to
know their place. I half told him so, but he answered in his usual
contradictory way that the poor have no place at all.

"He travels through life very much by his own crooked road, with his own
conception of morality, justice and truth. Out of justice to the dead,
he argues, we ought to abolish most of the institutions they have left
behind. Otherwise they are being disgraced every day by the clumsy
workings of the things they have established. If our honored ancestors
desired to perpetuate their taboos, fetishes and inquisitions they had
no business to die; they should have stayed here. By going to either of
the places beyond they have forfeited their right to manage things here
below. The dead should give the living absolute home rule.

"He is a bad man. He hardly ever gives any charity. He does not believe
in charity; says it creates more misery than it relieves, and
perpetuates poverty--the crime of mankind. Charity, he claims, curses
both the giver and the receiver. It makes the former haughty and proud
and the latter dependent and servile. What he wants is justice and the
rights of all to earn the means of subsistence. And there is no use in
quoting the Bible, when he talks of poverty. The Bible, he says, is a
great book which could be immensely improved by a good editor with a
long blue pencil. All the immoral problem-plays pale into pitiful
insignificance beside some of the stories told in the Bible--and they
are not anywhere half so well told. Did you ever hear such blasphemy? He
is an infidel. He does not even believe the newspapers; has little faith
in the great power of the press. Most of the newspapers, he told me, are
published by the advertisers and edited by the readers. Journalists ever
follow public opinion, and they are never sure of what they believe in
because it is hard to find out what the people approve. Weather Bureau
predictions are often Gospel truths beside editorial convictions. The
best papers are yet to be printed. He has such rank disregard of the
past and the present that he seems to think that all things really great
are yet to come.

"He puzzles and vexes me. I don't know just what he is in politics. I
doubt whether he is either a Republican or a Democrat. I suspect he
votes for the Anarchist party. What an absurdity! They will never elect
a President, and this foolish man has not the ghost of a chance to get
an office. He is not at all consistent. He changes his mind very often.
No matter how zealous or ardent he is about his ideas he is ever ready
to reject them to-morrow and accept other views. He does not believe in
the newspapers, in things visible and present, yet he has the utmost
faith in far-away fictions, intangible Utopias and the realization of
iridescent dreams.

"I dare not repeat all his outrageous blasphemies, and I positively
cannot mention his awful heresies as to his religion. He cannot accept
the religion of his fathers because they were infidels; infidels who
built little creeds out of fear, who were afraid of their shadows, who
had monstrous, libellous conceptions of God. He says that he has too
much faith to belong to any denomination. Religion is so large that no
church can hold it. No one should meddle between man and his Maker.
Christ, I have heard him say, may never forgive the Christians for what
they have made out of him, for robbing him of his humanity. No church
for him. He would rather worship beneath the arched dome of the starry
skies and offer up a prayer to the God that dwells in every human heart
and thinking brain. He is a bad man.

"He is always on the ungrateful side of the few, the poor, the weak and
the fallen; and he even sympathizes with beggars, criminals, fallen
women and low persons; is not afraid to mingle with them. And what
advantage can he ever derive out of that? Absent-minded, forgetful,
engrossed in his queer ideas and impossible ideals, he gets lost in his
theories and books, and loses life. He does not realize that millions
have found this world as it is and millions more will leave it so. Poor
man, he is a dreamer of dreams; and to see the invisible, to hear
inaudible voices, is the most expensive thing in life. He sacrifices
affluence, influence, power, political office, honor, _éclat_, applause,
the respect of the community, the regard of his neighbors, the praise
of the press, the advantages of politics and of the people's
approval--sacrifices all these for his pitiful brain-begotten fancies.
He is a dreamer of dreams. Yet he seems to like this journey along the
lines of most resistance, says it is least resistance to him, and he
tells me that he enjoys his poverty and all, immensely. He freely
indulges in most of the vain and worldly pleasures of life as he sees
them, regardless of all others, considers one day as holy as another and
no day so mean as to wear a long and sanctimonious face on, and he says
that the only thing which he prohibits is prohibition in any form. His
wife does not fear him, does not have to obey him, does as she pleases,
and his children are as free and wild as little savages. He is a bad
man.

"But what can be done? Ministers and other good men have repeatedly
tried to save him, but he evades all their efforts, avoids all their
sermons. He would save them the trouble of saving him, he says, because
he thinks he can do it so much better himself. What can be done? All
things are here to serve him, none to subserve him. He is a law unto
himself, and has little or nothing to do with the Government, so he
says. He is a bad man. He is not going to heaven--and yet, and yet--if
there were more like him this world would be so different, and perhaps
no one would ever want to go to heaven."

There was a pause and a silence at the close of the reading, but our
essayist was soon spared "the agony of suspense," as he mockingly
remarked. Then came comments of varied shades of opinion, approving and
disapproving, constructive and destructive, too many to mention, and
Keidansky enjoyed them all. At length I ventured to ask him what sort of
administrator his friend, the bad man, would make if he was ever elected
to office.

"He would never run for office," said Keidansky, "and if he ran he would
never be elected; and if he ever was elected he would certainly be a
dire failure because he does not believe in managing other people's
business. The best of men will not want to, cannot do it, and politics
is no test. The man who goes in with or for the crowd ceases to be
himself; and therefore we ought to invent our public officials and not
make them out of men. However, don't press me, I am not at all sure
about these things. I only know that the bad man is coming; that he is
here; that he is a dire terror--and will save the world. What I gave you
here is a mere suggestion, a hint of a possibility, a premonition. Every
conception is spoiled by the description of it. He will come, and time
will not tame him. He will come, and the divine institution of
police-court morality is doomed. The virtues of the future will be
useful. They will be conducive to growth--real happiness.

"But, as I say, I don't want to appear dogmatic; nor to be too sure of
things. The most useful thing about our theories is that we know them to
be useless. The best thing about our ideas is that the world has not
accepted them yet. If the world had accepted them these ideas would
probably now look like last winter's snow. Better to wait until it is
ready for them--then they will not go to waste. Better a bad world than
a good world come too early--before the people are ready for it. But
what's the use! I've done it, my friends, and my apology for life
is--that I never apologize. Come, it's getting close, up here. Come, let
us forth into the darkness and pray for eternal night--for night hides
all the ugly splendors of the world."



VIII

"The Feminine Traits of Men"


"You are as inquisitive as a man," said Keidansky.

"You mean--" I tried to correct him.

"I mean as inquisitive as a man," he repeated.

This was at a social gathering, a Purim festival given by the B'nai Zion
Educational Society at Zion Hall. We sat in the little back room
adjoining the main hall, which formed the library of the society. There
was a good fire in the stove; we were just far enough away from the
music and the dance to enjoy it, and also to relish our chat.

I suppose I had gone beyond the point of discretion in my quest of
information; that I asked some questions of a rather personal nature
which my friend thought best to leave unanswered, and hence the rebuke I
received.

"Some one," said Keidansky, "ought to write an essay on 'The Feminine
Traits of Men,' and point out in what a pronounced form men possess the
traits, objectionable and acceptable, they constantly attribute to
women. For centuries women have borne the blame and ridicule and
criticism for qualities they either have in the mildest, most
insignificant forms, or do not possess at all--when you compare them to
men. And it's about time they should be vindicated, and the truth should
make them free from this popular misconception. It seems to me that in
a certain way men have actually monopolized most of the objectionable
traits of women; and to have shifted all the blame on them for all these
years was a crying shame--an outrageous wrong.

"Yes, some one ought to write about it; some one who is young, handsome
and gallant--so that he may receive the gratitude of the fair sex. For
instance, woman is said to be inquisitive. But who, really, is so
anxious to know, so peevish, petulant and prurient as man is? Who like
him will go to so much trouble to find out the minutest detail about
men, women and things that surround him? Who is so eager and diligent in
his search of information, knowledge and light? Who like unto him--I
mean, his majesty, man--takes such loving interest in his neighbors and
pries so pitilessly into their private affairs? Who makes such an
excellent reporter, detective, biographer? Who are the successful
editors of our newspapers? Men, of course. They are the ones who
constantly load you with questions, who are ever endeavoring to peer
into your inmost self and who always want to know about your past,
present, future, former and later incarnations. I am told, on good
authority, that genealogy--which I understand to be the science of
proving that your great-grandfather was somebody and that somebody was
your great-grandmother--that this science has been nurtured and garnered
and brought up to its present state of perfection, or imperfection, by
men.

"It's appalling, this curiosity of man," he continued fervently. "He
can go sixteen miles out of his way to pick up the smallest scrap of a
fact, or fancy. He can collect endless stores of useless information. He
fancies nothing so much as facts. His thirst for knowledge cannot be
satiated even by flattery. Men not only make encyclopædias, but they
actually use them. They not only build and endow libraries, but they
actually utilize them--spoil their eyes over musty, misty, mazy volumes.
And then, how anxious we all are to be posted on the most unimportant
things concerning our friends and the people we meet and know; we are
ever attempting to read their minds and their hearts, and if there are
none, we put meanings into them. Have not the greatest novelists been
men?

"Motke Chabad, the Jewish jester, once came to a strange town near his
native city of Wilna, and as he entered the community a patriarchal old
Israelite accosted him with the usual _Shalom aleichem. Ma simecho?_
'Peace be with thee, stranger. What is thy name?'

"'It's none of your business,' answered Motke.

"When asked why he thus rudely acted toward the old man, Motke Chabad
explained that had he told the stranger his name the other would have
asked where he came from, what his business was, how many children he
had, if he was married, how old his father was, if he was still living,
if he had any relatives in America, if he ever was blessed by the great
rabbi of Wilna, etc., etc., and, said Chabad, 'to say nothing of my
morning prayers, I had not as yet had my breakfast, when I met him.'

"Chabad, you see, knew his brother, man. Men curious to know? Rose
Dartle is nothing beside Andrew Lang, and he has this advantage over
her--that he exists and can find things out. Another instance. You go
into your store or factory in the morning. You have a slight toothache.
You feel and look rather seedy, and the man who works next to you comes
over and sympathetically asks you why it was that she rejected you, why
the other fellow won her heart, by what magic charms your rival eclipsed
you, etc., and he keeps on with his queries until you tell him--

"Go stand up on the first corner. Take off your hat and cry out:
'Gentlemen, this is a hat, this is a hat! Look into it!' And in a few
seconds you will have a big throng of curious men standing about and
staring at you. Women who will happen along will pass right on, but men
will stand there and stare--like men.

"There was a time when certain things were considered beyond the
scrutiny of curious men, when they were held too sacred for
investigations and explanations, when the things that were not
understood were deemed holy and when men stood in reverence before these
things and bowed and took off their thinking caps. But now they want to
know everything--even the things that are of prime importance. And there
is no use in telling them that nothing really exists--not even the
logic of Christian Scientists. They want to know. They must find the
facts or make them. What's the use of living if one doesn't know just on
what date King Pharaoh died? No news may be good news, but you can't run
a newspaper on that principle now-a-days. Whether the things happen or
not man wants to know the facts and the details of the cases. They must
know. Knowledge is power. To know is to be able to boast of it. And men
ever boast of what they know or think they know.

"But why say more? The collected knowledge, the accumulated data and
science of the world sufficiently prove the inquisitiveness of men. It
is one faculty which works many ways, you know, and these ways are
shaped by circumstances and conditions. Now a man peeps through a
keyhole to get some material for a bit of gossip, and then he looks up
to the stars to make an astronomical observation. But the Darwins and
the Newtons and the Herschels prove how curious to know men really are.

"And it is their extreme vanity, too, that makes men so presumptuous,
ostentatious and obstreperous. They have so much faith in themselves
that no self-respecting person can trust them. They are so confident in
their right to know, so convinced of the value of their knowledge, so
sure of the absolute necessity of their volubility. They are so
unbearably overbearing, self-conscious and self-centred that they forget
there are others besides them in this world. It is their vanity that
makes men speak in volumes.

"Then they say that women gossip, but you know that they are far
outdone, almost totally eclipsed in this respect, too, by men. Men are
the real, rapid-transit champion gossips and talkers of the world. It
was a dark and dismal night, as the story goes, and we all sat around
the fire and the captain said, 'Jack, tell us a story,' and Jack told a
number of stories, and so did others, and we all told of divers
devilish, wicked things our friends had done, and in our heart of hearts
were awfully sorry we did not do these things ourselves, and we made
mud-cakes out of good, well-preserved reputations. Oh, how well we can
and how we do talk about our neighbors; but you know, people do like to
talk about those whom they love. Marie Corelli recently said--now do not
scowl because I quote Marie Corelli. She is a very good woman; only she
could not resist the temptation to write a few novels, and they may not
be so bad, only I could never get myself to read them because I heard
that Queen Victoria liked them immensely. Hold on, though; I guess I did
read one of these novels in a Yiddish translation; but that was because
the translator did not say whose work it was. I think he thought it was
original with himself. In fact, he passed it off as his own--which was a
brave thing to do, though the book proved to be popular. But I lost my
train of thought. Marie Corelli recently said that she never endured
such a babel of gossiping tongues as she once heard when being
entertained to luncheon at a men's club, and she added, 'nor have I
known many more reputations picked to pieces than on that occasion.' But
a recent writer told us what awful gossips all the historians have been,
and they were all men. We were told that Herodotus, who is the father of
history, was also one of the most inveterate of gossips. Saint Simon was
considered essentially a gossip, and even therefore a wonderful
historian of the time of Louis XV. Pepys, this writer told us, was the
greatest gossip that ever lived, also the greatest historian of his
time. Even Mommsen, we were told, shows some of the traits of a gossip
in his monumental history of Rome. The same was said of Gibbon and many
others. Gossip is not only the raw material of history, we were
informed, but it is also the raw material of the realistic novel, and as
I said before, the finest novels have been produced by the sons of Adam.

"Women are also charged with being loquacious, but that is another
trumped-up, false charge. You well know that the loquaciousness of men
is prodigious, tremendous. Man is the most wonderful talking machine
ever invented, and one of his favorite topics is the talkativeness of
woman. Men talk you to mental derangement and death wherever you go.
There is no escape. Nearly every man you meet is ready to tell you the
sad story of his life--sad, because he is ready to tell it. Many of them
write their autobiographies, and what with these and their sermons and
orations, novels and essays, histories and philosophies--there will soon
be no more room for libraries. And the worst thing about man's garrulity
is that he taxes the intellect so heavily, that what he says is loaded
with so much meaning. Anything a man says, you know, is in danger of
becoming literature. It's appalling. He always makes you think, whereas
what little a woman does say is so light and airy, breezy and restive. A
woman, too, writes a book, occasionally, but she does not mean anything
by it.

"But men are so very bad in this respect, so terribly blatant. They
never cease talking. When they don't talk they write, and the pen is
worse than the sword. Why am I afraid to ask the man, who stands near me
waiting for a car, what time it is? Because he might tell me of his
grandfather's heroic exploits in the Civil War. To have gone to war was
cruel; but to have left some one behind to boast of it was criminal. Why
am I afraid to read the latest short story that I have written to my
friend? Because he might show me a poem just done. And I nearly forgot
to point out what a monumental proof of naïve garrulity the Talmud is.
The Talmud, that strange conglomeration of law, love, legend, gossip,
fable, and occasionally a bit of wisdom, which one can find if one
searches diligently.

"They say also that women are capricious and changeful; but the progress
of the world shows how easily men change their minds. Yes, someone ought
to write an essay and point these things out, and vindicate a
much-maligned sex. It's a good chance for a man for some interesting
gossip on the subject."

"I suppose, then, that you believe in woman's rights," I at length
haphazarded an interruption.

"Yes," answered Keidansky, "I believe that women should have all their
rights, and should not, as the French cynic would have it, be killed at
forty. It's too late. I mean," he added quickly, "that it's too late to
talk any more about it."



IX

The Value of Ignorance


"What do I know? I don't know anything," said Keidansky, "and I don't
care to."

"I thought you were always in quest of knowledge," I remarked.

"I am," he answered: "I am infatuated with the quest, I love it. It is
so exhilarating, stirring, full of excitement and fraught with danger."

"Danger? Wherein is that?" I asked.

"The danger," he emphasized, "is in finding the knowledge I am in quest
of; for once your search has been answered with success, and you have
informed yourself with the facts of the case, the game is up and the fun
is over, as the Americans say. The hallucination of the glorious quest
is shattered, the suspense is spoiled, the ecstatic expectations are
destroyed, and we become fit subjects for illustrations in the
_Fliegende Blätter_. 'A little knowledge is a dangerous thing' and a lot
of it is fatal. Yes, knowledge is might, but illusion is omnipotence. So
I like to seek information well enough, but I would rather not know."

I became interested, although scandalized, and my companion kept on
musing aloud.

"Not to know is to hope, to fear, to be in delightful uncertainty, to
dream fair dreams, to imagine the most impossible things, to wonder and
marvel at all in childlike innocence, to build the most beautiful
castles in the air, to give the imagination full swing, to conjure up
the most fantastic mythological melodramas, to stand with deep awe and
inspired reverence before all the mighty manifestations of nature, to
form the finest idols, to build splendid religions, to have faith and to
foster it, to see the invisible, to draw gorgeous rainbows of promise
upon the horizon of life, in a word, not to know is to sustain perfect
illusion, not to go behind the scenes, is to enjoy the entire
performance.

"On the other hand, my dear fellow, to know is to have your wings
clipped, to see the distance between the earth and the skies and the
difference between you and what you thought yourself to be, to feel your
littleness and become dreadfully aware of the absurdity of it all, to
have the imagination arrested for trespassing, to be rejected from the
castles you built for non-payment of taxes, to be punished for the
idleness of your idols, to see your little demigods crumble at the rate
of sixteen a minute, to become aware of the futility of the whole
business, the shortness of terms given you, the unstability of your
credit, to find that you are but a feather blown hither and thither by
the whirlwind of the world, that your greatest plan may be demolished by
a whim of fate, to learn that the stupid moon really does not look so
pale because of your unrequited love, and that the great sun does not
shine because you are going to a picnic, to discover that your
credulity was the only miracle that ever happened, and that even gods
suffer from dyspepsia, to lose faith, become sceptic, abandon religion,
move out of the balmy fairyland of tradition and freeze in the realms of
right reason. To know is to be deprived even of that little confidence
in your power to alter the course of the universe; to recognize how
inexorable, inscrutable, indifferent, the powers of life are, and what a
common pedigree all things of beauty have; it is to have the dramatic
effect of the play spoiled and to vote it all a farce and a failure.

"We are all becoming so educated now-a-days that we no longer know the
value of ignorance, and we have nearly forgotten things of goodness and
of beauty that it has brought into the world. Ignorance is the mazy mist
of morning in which so much is born; it is the mystic dimness wherein
all things awe and enchant forever. Ignorance is the beginning of the
world; knowledge is the end of it. In the unexplored vastnesses of
ignorance the mind soars through all the heavens and works wonders; in
the measured spheres of knowledge the mind travels carefully and creates
little as far as mythology, theology, religion and poetry are concerned.
Were it not for ignorance we would not have had all the wealth of
legends and fables and fairy tales and sagas and _märchen_, strange,
weird, wonderful, to intoxicate the imagination of the world and enable
us to live for centuries in lands of magic and charm and dreamlike
realities. And if you see some works of beauty and nobility in the world
to delight you, it is because we have just come out of these lands, and
we are imitating and re-creating what we saw there. There are some who
still dwell in them, and they send us messages and often bless us with
their visits.

"Thank you for stopping me. I should not have liked to be run over
before you had listened to the rest of my argument; besides, it makes a
mess of one. This is a dangerous crossing--for a debate. But, to
continue: Were it not for ignorance--had we known everything about
God--Europe would not be dotted with all the beautiful cathedrals and
the wonderful treasures of art that are an everlasting source of
enchantment and inspiration. Were it not for the same reason we would
not have such a beauty spot in Boston as Copley square, with its two
imposing churches, Library and Museum of Art. And remembering that all
objects to delight the eye, the ear and the mind began at the earliest
shrines of worship, we can barely calculate how poor and meagre all our
arts would have been were it not for this ignorance. What would
poetry--in the largest sense--what would it be were it not for this
ignorance concerning Providence? And poetry is the main motive, the
quintessence of all the other arts. Religion is the great question mark
of the world, and what you ask for religion I ask for ignorance. Whether
the makers of the Bible wrote on space or not, no one can deny its high
value as a work of poetry and fiction; and as much can be said for all
the other sacred books of the great faiths.

"The mood of ignorance is worth everything: it is wonder, amazement,
naïveté, child-like innocence, fairy-like dreaminess.

"In ignorance we trust, trusting we serve, serving we achieve, achieving
we glorify our names. Not to know is to long for, to expect
everything--and work for it; while to know is to be sure of this or
that, and there is something significant in the coupling of the words,
'dead sure.' 'Tis good to have faith; what we believe in is or comes
true. The illusion is the thing that makes the play. We are all chasing
after phantoms, but the chase is a reality, and it's all in all. The
less we know about the results--perhaps the more we do. And not knowing
how incapable we are, some of us do remarkable things.

"A Jewish legend tells us that before the human soul is doomed to be
born it knows everything, is informed of all knowledge--including, I
presume, a knowledge of the Talmudic laws of marriage and divorce--but
that at its birth an angel appears, gives the child a _schnel in noz_,
or tap on the nose, which causes the infant to forget everything it
knows so that it may be born absolutely ignorant. That is a good angel,
I say, who performs a good office, and not like the rest of them, who,
according to John Hay, are loafing around the throne. Here is a useful
angel. For to give the child its ignorance is to confer a great boon; to
make it capable of something in life. It is a valuable gift, though
earthly creatures soon spoil the good work of the angel and stuff the
child's head full of all sorts of useless knowledge. Soon the mind is
clogged, the faculties for thinking, wondering, understanding are turned
into a phonographic apparatus for remembering what should never have
been learned, and the imagination is nipped in the bud, told to be
correct and keep still. With all my inability to learn and
disinclination to know, there are still a few things I have been trying
to forget all my life, but I cannot do it. At the point of a cane my
rabbi drove these things into my head. So if I ever impart any
information to you, forgive me for I cannot forget. Here in America and
in modernity, where superstition is such that people actually believe in
the existence of facts, the schools and colleges form tremendous systems
of stupefaction. Poor little heads of innocent children are packed,
cramped and crowded with dates and names and all sorts of insignificant
data. They teach them everything--except what interests them, and they
are made to repeat and to remember all things dry and dull and dreary.
'Facts, facts, facts,' the teachers cry, not knowing that there are no
facts in real life. Minds are measured, ideas must be of a certain size,
you must think but one thought at a time and remember all things in
history that never happened. Thus, fancy, whim, suggestion, imagination
are sadly neglected, and the finest faculties are left behind. Everybody
knows everything, but no one understands anything.

"'Tis so with people generally--they are all clamoring for what they
call facts, explaining things after fixed formulas, making the most
astonishing, dead-sure statements; in short, spreading useful knowledge.
They all have ideas and theories and philosophies after a fashion; they
have sized this universe up, past, present and future, and they can
explain everything except themselves. Everybody has found a few 'facts,'
and after these fashioned a universal panacea, a little patented plan
for solving the social problem. There are so many solutions that it is
hard to find just what the problem is. Reform is so much in style that
even a corn doctor proclaims himself a social saviour. The social
reformers with their sure cures, positive facts and all-saving systems
are the plague of the age. There is no escape from these things they
call certain and positive and indisputable. Figures and statistics and
so-called facts make up the sum of our life. Life is harnessed by
systems and we are strangled by statistics. The subtle, the strange, the
symbolic, the suggestive, the intuitive, the poetic and imaginative, the
flash-lights that make you see eternity in a moment--these are
overlooked and neglected. The things really true are forgotten. What is
that Persian legend about the man who devoted his life to planting and
rearing and raising the tree of knowledge in his garden, and
afterwards, in his old age, was hanged thereon? What? There is no such
Persian legend? Well, then, some Englishman ought to write it. At any
rate this shows the value of knowledge. The fruit of the tree of
knowledge is now sweet, now bitter--but mostly bitter. We analyze and
examine so much these days that we find within ourselves and in our
surroundings the symptoms of all diseases and all evil. To quote a
quaint but true Zangwillism, 'Analysis is paralysis, introspection is
vivisection, and culture drives us mad.' We measure things so closely
and leave no room for the surprising, the spontaneous, the freely
flowing, the lifelike. The age of reason has come and we are no longer
wise. We have forgotten what we owe to ignorance. 'He knows everything,'
said the doctor; 'there is no hope for him.'

"In their ignorance of human nature and natural law idealists have
dreamed and created the most unattainable Utopias, and their impossible
visions shaped our destiny and made us great. The stirring speech that
Lametkin delivered this evening is partly due to his ignorance of things
and his blind faith in his panacea, but it enthused his audience
immensely, and it will have a wonderful effect upon their lives. The
other day I read some beautiful lines by Owen Meredith about the child
who cries 'to clutch the star that shines in splendor over his little
cot.' The matter-of-fact father says that it is folly, that it is
millions of miles away, and that 'the star descends not to twinkle on
the little one's bed.' But the mother tenderly tells the child to sleep
and promises to pluck the star for it and by-and-by


     '_Lay it upon the pillow bright with dew_,'


and then the child sleeps and dreams of stars whose light


     '_Beams in his own bright eyes when he awakes_.'


"Now in these lines one may find justification for all the idealizations
of art, but they are also suggestive of the value of ignorance. So it
is. We must learn to see the invisible. We must be oblivious to the
obvious, to see anything. We ought not to try to clear up everything. If
life were not a problem play it would not interest us so. Let the
mystery remain. Intimations of immortality are good enough; proofs would
kill our longing for it. Whence? Whither? I rather hope these questions
will never be answered. The halo, the maze, the mystery, the shadowy
strangeness of it all makes it worth while and gives the fancy freedom
to fly. Statistics sterilize the imagination and figures dry up our
souls. Do you remember Whitman's 'When I Heard the Learned Astronomers?'
The lecturer with his charts and diagrams soon made him unaccountably
sick, till rising and gliding out of the lecture room he wandered off by
himself 'in the mystical, moist night-air, and from time to time looked
up in perfect silence at the stars,' and thus became himself again.

"Let others seek what they call facts: for me the lights and the shades,
the dimness and the flash, the chiaroscuro of life. Let others pierce
through phenomena and impregnate realities; my favorite amusement is to
walk upon the clouds and play ball with the stars. I cannot grasp such
details as the size of the earth, the distance between sun and moon.
Logic? Lockjaw. Go study your astronomy and let me lie on my back in
some verdant field and gaze upon the stars, and I shall be content. Let
others study botany, give me but the fragrance of the blooms and flowers
and let me gaze upon their gorgeous riots of color. For others the study
of anatomy, for me the beauty of the human form to behold. Let others
study ornithology, and let me listen to the thrilling music of the
winged songsters. Take all the sciences that explain everything away,
and give me the things beautiful to behold, sweet to hear and pleasing
to touch. And before you run away let me also tell you that there is a
mood of contemplation which, for comprehension, passeth all science and
analysis.

"But, after all," he added, as we were about to part, "I could only hint
at these things, for it takes a very learned man to prove the value of
ignorance."



X

Days of Atonement


All day the Ghetto was astir. There was a babel of excitement at the
markets, an unusual rush and bustle on Allen street. The stores were
well filled with bargaining, buying men and women, and the push-cart
vendors were centres of attracted crowds. Everywhere housewives were
busy washing, clearing, cleaning their homes. The spirit of awe,
reverence, expectancy, was in the air. The great day of Rosh Hashona was
approaching; New Year's day was drawing nigh.

We stood on the sidewalk in front of Berosowsky's book and periodical
emporium, the strange place where you can procure anything from Bernard
Feigenbaum's pamphlets against religion, to a pair of phylacteries, from
Tolstoy's works in Yiddish to a holy scroll. We stood and gazed on the
familiar yet fascinating scene. We had just left the store, wherein we
glanced through the current newspapers and other publications. "It is so
stupid to read. Let's go out and look at the people," Keidansky
exclaimed abruptly as he threw down a eulogy of a Yiddish poet written
by himself, in the paper of which he is now editor.

Not far off was heard the short, shrill sound of the ram's horn. It was
the "bal tkio," the official synagogue trumpeter practising for the
nearing ominous days. Hard by, a cantor and his choir of sweet voices
were rehearsing the quaint hymns and prayers of the great fast, singing
the strange, tearful, traditional melodies that have never been written,
and yet have come down from generation to generation for hundreds of
years; the weird musical wailings, the tunes of the cheerless chants,
charged with the sighs, groans and laments of centuries of sufferings,
flooded the noisy street, mingled with the harsh cries of the hucksters,
and were lost in the general buzz and roar of the crowded district.

"The days of awe and of atonement are upon us," said Keidansky, "and
these evocative, awakening voices are drawing, drawing me back to the
synagogue, back to the days of childhood, faith, hope, ignorance,
innocence, peace, and plenty of sleep. A broken note of old music, then
a flood of memories, a sway of feeling, and no matter what I have, or
have not been, I am again as pious and penitent, and as passionately
religious, as I was when a child in the most God-fearing Ghetto in the
world.

"Did you say something about free thought, the higher criticism,
universal religion, about the law of evolution applied to religion,
about all creeds being equally true and equally false? Did you talk to
me about these things?

"Well, a scrap of Yom Kippur melody and the faith of my fathers is my
faith. Our instincts destroy our philosophies. 'Our feelings and
affections are wiser than we are!' The old is preserved for our
self-preservation. The new is destructive, bewildering. The old is
often worth deserting, yet it is bred in the bone; it is comforting and
consoling and easy to live up to. The new is bewitching, but baneful; it
breeds discontent, ennui, we can hardly ever live up to it. Blessed are
those who live in the world they were born into. They are also damned,
but that's not in their time.

"Tradition," Keidansky continued musing aloud, "is far more beautiful
than history, and even nature with all her charms has to be improved
upon by art, by illusion. In the course of time science may build up
some interesting superstitions, but meanwhile it is our poor debtor. It
has filled the world with cold facts. It has emptied the heart of its
fond fancies. And what do we really know, after all? The greatest
philosopher of the age pauses and stands nonplussed before the
Unknowable. The densest ignoramus in the world knows it all; knows all
about the worlds beneath and beyond--their climates, inhabitants,
populations, moral status, tortures and pleasures. What do we know,
anyway? Next to nothing, and we feel lonely and desolate and powerless
after we have had everything explained to us. Orthodoxy, at least, gives
us the consciousness of having some control in the universe; it gives us
a sense of shelter and of safety. We know we have a kind of vote in the
general management of things. We can accomplish something by our
prayers, by fasting. And when the fearful days come, the days in which
the destiny of every mortal for the coming year is determined on high,
we ask for atonement, and fast and pour out our griefs in mournful
prayers and burn candles for the dead. Our voices are heard on high,
because we believe they are, and our names are entered in the Book of
Life for another year. Do not smile now, nor look so wise. All that is,
is well, and whatever we believe in is true. The greatest sacrifice we
made to science was our ignorance.

"But whether it is this or that, there is something rooted so firmly and
so unfathomably deep within us that calls and pulls us back to all that
we have deserted and tried to forget; and when these hallowed days come,
we can no longer drown our feelings. No matter how far I went in my
radical conceptions--and I often went far enough to be excommunicated by
my worthy brethren--no matter how iconoclastic we became, how absorbed
we were in our abstractions, and how fearlessly we theorized, the season
of awe, beautiful, terrible awe, the judgment days drew near and hearts
became heavy and the melody of the song of 'Kol Nidro' invaded our minds
and shut out all the other music we ever heard in our lives. It is all a
strain of music that, once heard, keeps singing in our memories
forever--this faith of our fathers. Go where we will, do what we may,
the beauties of the old religion are with us yet and we cannot, we
cannot forget.

"Among the radicals of the New York Ghetto there is no more advanced nor
brilliant man than is my friend Bahan. He has edited some of the best
Jewish publications; he has written much of what was best in them, and
he was always on the side of free-thought and new ideas. Like myself, he
belonged to the circles that had reformed Judaism altogether. He had not
entered a synagogue for purposes of prayer since he left Russia as a
youth, and that was many years ago. He is now on one of the best New
York papers, and when Rosh Hashona and Yom Kippur arrive, he writes
about these holidays so fervidly, feelingly, enthusiastically, with such
tears in his eyes that one would think that these unsigned articles are
the work of the most pious and orthodox Hebrew in New York. And,
perhaps, they are too," Keidansky added, aside, "only if Bahan were
accused of orthodoxy he would protest his innocence."

"That was years ago," my friend continued after a pause. "I was young,
seeking new worlds to conquer, and so I fell into bad company--among
people who think. They are mostly free-thinkers and free-talkers, and in
the course of time my religion dwindled and I became as erratic as any
of them. The worst thing about one who begins to think is that he also
begins to talk. I began to talk, to voice my doubts and heresies, and
soon the world, or at least my relatives, were against me. I kept on
saying the most unsayable things, and when New Year's came I refused to
go to the synagogue, because I had discovered the existence of the
Unknowable. We quarrelled, and things came to such a pass that I left
my cousin's home, where I had been living, during the Days of
Atonement. I knew what I knew and I was ready to make all sacrifices for
the right of ranting and raving over the shameful superstitions in which
humanity was steeped. The world was before me and so were all my
troubles. But even when I refused to go to the synagogue, I was at heart
of hearts exceedingly lonely without it, without the beautiful service
of Rosh Hoshona. When the eve of Yom Kippur came I did not know what to
do with myself. Our circle of friends was to meet at the home of one of
its members and spend the evening gayly and happily, though it was the
sad and solemn Fast of Atonement. I had promised to come, and so, when
all the inhabitants of the Ghetto were wending their way to their
respective houses of worship I started with a heavy heart to join my
friends, glad that I had made the promise and sorry that I was keeping
it. I arrived at my destination, a street in the West End Jewish
quarter. When I neared the house I heard a loud, rather boisterous
conversation going on. I rang the bell. Even as I did so I heard a
number of shouts and loud peals of laughter. I did not wait for the door
to open. I turned and walked away. I walked right on, not in the least
knowing whither. Before I was barely aware of it, I was in Baldwin
place, in front of the Beth Israel Synagogue. The cantor and his choir
were just chanting the awe-inspiring, soul-stirring prayer of 'Kol
Nidro,' that wonderful product of the Spanish inquisition, written by a
Morano during the darkest days of Israel and freighted with the sighs
and cries and moans of a suffering people. Those strains of music
brought me to my own life again. I entered the synagogue. I had come
into my own. I felt such peace and consolation as I had not known for
ever so long.

"Do not ask me to explain it, I cannot. If the incurability of religion
could be explained it could also be cured. This is what happened, and
this is what still happens to me from time to time. It may be strange,
but mine is a government of, for, and by moods, and as they come and go
I become everything that I have been and that I may be.

"I've been greatly moved by many preachers and teachers and I have
followed some of the most advanced advocates of our time, the most
universal universalists; but let me hear one of the beautiful old
chants, such as 'Kol Nidro,' or 'Unsana Taukeff' and I become a most
zealous orthodox. Did I ever tell you about it?

"'Unsana Taukeff' is the most important prayer on the two days of Rosh
Hoshona and the Day of Atonement. It is known as the 'Song of a Martyr
in Israel!' The story of the prayer is one of the prettiest in Jewish
folk tales. It is the song of Rabbi Amnon, who was the rabbi of Metz, in
the days of Bishop Ercembud (1011-1017). Rabbi Amnon was of an
illustrious family, of great personal merit, rich and respected by Jew
and Gentile alike. The bishop frequently pressed him to abjure Judaism
and embrace Christianity, but without avail. It happened, however, on a
certain day, being more closely pressed than usual and somewhat anxious
to be rid of the bishop's importunities, he said hastily: 'I will
consider the matter and give thee an answer in three days.'

"As soon as he had left the bishop's presence, however, his heart smote
him and an uneasy conscience blamed him for having, even in the remotest
manner, doubted his faith. He reached home overwhelmed with grief. Meat
was set before him, but he refused to eat, and when his friends visited
him he declined their proffered consolation, saying: 'I shall go down
mourning to the grave.'

"On the third day, while he was still lamenting his rash concession, the
bishop sent for him, but he failed to answer the call. Finally the
bishop's messengers seized him and brought him before the prelate by
force. 'Let me pronounce my own doom for this neglect,' answered Amnon.
'Let my tongue, which uttered these doubting words, be cut out. It was a
lie I uttered, for I never intended to consider that proposition.'

"'Nay,' said the bishop, 'I will not cut out thy tongue, but thy feet,
which refused to come to me, shall be cut off, and other parts of thine
obstinate body shall also be tormented and punished.'

"Under the bishop's eyes the toes and thumbs of Rabbi Amnon were then
cut off, and after having been severely tortured he was sent home in a
carriage, his mangled members beside him. Rabbi Amnon bore all this
with greatest resignation, firmly hoping and trusting that his earthly
torment would plead his pardon with God. The days of awe came round
while he was on his death bed, and he desired to be carried to the
synagogue. He was conveyed to the house of God, and during the services
he asked that he be permitted to utter a prayer. His words, which proved
to be the last, given in English, are somewhat as follows:

"'I will declare the mighty holiness of this day, for it is awful and
tremendous. Thy kingdom is exalted thereon; Thy throne is established in
mercy, and upon it Thou dost rest in truth. Thou art the judge who
chastiseth, and from Thee naught may be concealed. Thou bearest witness,
writest, sealest, recordest and rememberest all things, aye those which
we imagine buried in the past. The Book of Records Thou openest; the
great sophor is sounded; even the angels are terrified and they cry
aloud: "The day of judgment dawns upon us," for in judgment they, the
angels, are not faultless.

"'All who have entered the world pass before Thee. Even as the shepherd
causes the flock he numbers to pass under his crook, so Thou, O Lord,
causest every living soul to pass before Thee. Thou numberest, thou
visitest, appointing the limitations of every creature according to Thy
judgment and Thy sentence.

"'On the New Year it is written, on the Day of Atonement it is sealed.
Aye, all Thy decrees are recorded; who is to live and who is to die. The
names of those who are to meet death by fire, by water, or by sword;
through hunger, through thirst, and with the pestilence. All is
recorded; those who are to have tranquillity; those who are to be
disturbed; those who are to be troubled; those who are to be blessed
with repose; those who are to be prosperous; those for whom affliction
is in store; those who are to become rich, those who are to be poor; who
exalted, who cast down. But penitence, prayer and charity, O Lord, may
avert all evil decrees.'

"When he had finished this declaration, Rabbi Amnon expired, dying in
God's house, among the assembled sons of Israel.

"I can never forget these prayers, nor these days, go where I will, do
what I may," Keidansky continued. "Did you say something about free
thought, the higher criticism, universal religion, the law of evolution,
the study of comparative religion, the absurdity of superstition? Come,
let us go over to yonder house; the cantor and his choir are now singing
'Unsana Taukeff.'"

And I followed him.



XI

Why the World Is Growing Better


"The world is growing better than it ever was before," said Keidansky;
"we no longer practise what we preach." And before I had time to recover
from my surprise and utter any protest, he hastily continued in his
exasperating manner: "We still believe in certain doctrines, hold
certain theories, advocate certain ideas, preach certain gospels; but we
feel different and act much better when it comes to real life. We are
far wiser in adjusting our acts to our ends, or rather our deeds are
more wisely adjusted to our aims than we know. We do not desecrate these
principles we entertain by putting them into practice. We don't feel
like doing so. We let the abstractions float above us as vapor in the
air. We have human instincts, good motives, noble longings, and our
conduct is fairly decent in spite of our conflicting codes.

"From a thousand pulpits we are told to do this, that, and the other; a
thousand theories would divide our paths in life; a thousand methods of
salvation are presented to us by the only and original authorized agents
from on high; but our humanity makes us all akin, our instincts guide us
and our yearnings lure us all the same way to perdition and to
happiness; and we follow after and pave the way for the ideal world. How
widely, vastly different our religious and moral beliefs and our
abstractions are. And yet, how nearly alike, how similarly we all act
and perform our parts in the world's work. We still differ, dispute and
debate over the future, the trend and ultimate aim of things; but we no
longer allow these differences to prevent us from acting in unison and
harmony in all things that are conducive to our better development and
chief good. A dozen men cannot agree upon a Church, so they form another
trust; and, aiding the industrial growth of the country, they work out
their own salvation, and in the course of time endow colleges and build
mansions and pay fabulous sums for great paintings, and even feed the
beggars that live on theology. These men agree on one thing, and that is
most important of all.

"As I said, we still listen to and believe in many of the crude,
incongruous and misty creeds that are preached to us, but we walk upon
more solid ground when it comes to life, and all that we want to make of
it--which is the most possible. We build wiser than we know, and we
disobey the preachers because we can rise above them, do better, and put
their advice to shame. Have we discarded the book? Well, we have
followed life; and see, this world is quite inhabitable now. That we
differ in theology, on legends, myths, is a trifle, but that we agree on
the education of the young, hygiene, athletic exercise, morning walks,
cold baths, pure diet, music, pictures: that we agree on the value of
all these things makes the game worth the candle.

"For instance, we are perpetually urged to, and we half believe it best
to, renounce the world, the flesh, and the devil, forfeit all the joys
of life, and join the Society for the Prevention of Anything; but in
actuality, we are all strenuously engaged in capturing the world, in
gratifying the flesh and in getting as much devil into us as is possible
in the pitifully brief span of this short life. This is absolutely
necessary. The more devil within us the better. A man with no devil in
him will not go to heaven, or any other pleasurable resort. By doing and
daring and deviling we become strong, and if the world is better to-day
than it ever was before, which it certainly is, it is because we no
longer practise what we preach--have nearly always practised better. If
man did not do things, and do them so much better, sermons would never
become obsolete; but as it is, loads of them have to be dumped in some
swamp every little while.

"We have also been advised as to the beautiful virtues of humility,
meekness, timidity, obedience, submission, self-effacement,
self-suppression, wiping yourself off the face of the earth with benzine
and a rag, and we have believed in the advice, but fortunately only
believed; for a voice from within prompted us to feel and be different
and do more wisely. So we cultivated haughtiness, pride, aggressiveness,
have given free play to our physical and spiritual forces, have become
conscious of our powers, and more powerful still, and the phantom of
freedom is becoming a fact and the world is growing fair. We walk with
our heads erect nowadays, no matter what conception we have in our
minds. We have become so arrogant that we even question the divine right
of bishops and policemen. We take off our hats for nothing, known or
unknown. No matter what we believe, we feel that obsequiousness is the
most disgraceful word in the dictionary. Then we are becoming so
self-appreciative and selfish that we refuse to let others save us. The
salvation of a soul is a rather delicate matter, and it cannot be done
at short order while you wait, by all those whose advertisements we have
read. It is not quite so easy a matter as it is to find a watchmaker to
put your timepiece into good repair. In fact, we are growing so egoistic
that we want to do it ourselves. We no longer want any mark-down
bargains, such as salvation for a prayer, a fish dinner or ninety-eight
cents in charity. We feel the fraud of bribing our way into heaven.
Those are cheated most who get their things cheaply. It is the height of
impudence and imbecility to think that putting on a long face, or some
other act of piety or penance, will change your destiny, and
incidentally, the course of the universe. At least, we feel that these
things are wrong, no matter what we think. Life or death or immortality,
a man must pay his rent. Everything has its price. What you get for
nothing is worth the same. The theological bargains will not wear well
at all. You must pay honestly and fairly for everything you receive,
and for all you become. What we procure for nothing is not worth while.
We are only cheating ourselves miserably when we attempt to get what is
best through bribes and pass through the gates on false pretences.
Whatever we have been told, we feel that we cannot follow the newspaper
advertisements in these things and buy redemption at closing-out bargain
sales. No one can grow for another, no one can acquire, no one can
become for another, no one can be saved by proxy or buy salvation. Each
must work and suffer and struggle his way up.

"I see that you are a little incredulous about these things," he said,
after a short silence. "Do you find it hard to follow me? I know exactly
what I mean, only the difficulty lies in making you see it as I do. No;
don't be in haste. Let's walk a little more. I am afraid your education
is being sadly neglected; I haven't talked at you for some time. No; I
never hasten. Whenever I am in a great hurry to get to a place of the
most urgent necessity I walk into a second-hand book store, like those
on Fourth avenue, and look at the titles and read the prefaces of old
and odd volumes. Never mind the swarming, surging, scurrying crowds.
They are attending to the world's business, and make it possible for me
to be idle and look on.

"But what I was driving at is this: That there is one life and many
theories of it, that most of these theories are a disgrace even to
Sunday schools, that it's all hitting the nail on the finger. While
these theories would have us go by various little walks and byways and
lanes and alleys, life prompts us to take to the open road that leads to
strength and happiness. While these theories would have us thwart and
stifle and starve our desires, life forces us to give them full play in
spite of all conventions and creeds, and the result is civilization and
all its blessings. Way down into the recesses of our souls we are so
deeply religious that we all do better than we believe.

"Take three children of different birth; send them to three different
schools, instruct them in three different religions, and then, will they
not, when they grow up, work and aim and struggle and trade and worry
and aspire and get dyspepsia--in short, live and die in very much the
same way, and more or less fairly and squarely? Inasmuch as their morals
will be useful, will they not be of the same brand? Will they not do
better than they respectively believe? There are other illustrations.
The leading orthodox rabbi of this city naturally believes in the
restoration of Palestine, the regeneration of Judaism, the resurrection
of the Hebrew language, and the resuscitation of many things long dead
and passed away. In his speeches he is a most ardent advocate of the
revival of Hebrew lore, the essence of all wisdom according to him, and
the greatest of all tongues, the Hebrew language, which revival, he
avers, is the most radiant promise of Zionism. The neglect of the
ancient lore in this country is his most woful regret. But his own son
he sends to Harvard for a modern education, and the son will become a
man of the world and a useful, valuable member of society because his
father did better than he believed.

"'A year hence in Jerusalem,' cries the pious Hebrew at the close of his
holiday prayer, and then, as soon as the festival is over he buys
himself a little house, pays $800 down, raises two mortgages and,
trusting in God, he hopes to pay up the entire sum in about ten years,
and he and his family are happier and this country is richer and better
for their being here. 'A year hence in Jerusalem,' and here we are doing
what we can for our own good and for the good of whatever country we
abide in, and all of us are well because we act better than we preach
and believe. Most of us believed in the colonization of Palestine when
we were way back in Russia, yet we came over here feeling that this is
the new promised land. Palestine may be a good place for the old to die
in, if the superstition is true that the worms will not touch your
corpse there, but I don't think it is a promising country for the young
to live in. The land that was once flowing with milk and honey now lacks
water. No, I don't know in what part of New York they make the Passover
wine that they bring from Palestine.

"I am somewhat of a Zionist myself, as you know, but as soon as I can
afford it, as soon as my Yiddish play is produced and the New York
critics condemn it to a financial success, I will send for my little
brother to come from Russia to this country, and as there is no genius
in our family, I am sure he will do very well here. Yet I believe in the
restoration of Palestine, and so long as the Zionists permit me to live
in this country I am willing to support their movement.

"And, let's see, there 's something else. I want to fix you up so that
you will never again come to me with that hackneyed plaint that the
world is going to the dogs because we do not practise what we preach. We
have laws and we all preach against intermarriage, do we not? We all
condemn the intermarriage of Jew and Christian, of Protestant and
Catholic, of chorus girl and rich college student, of an actress and a
minister; we prohibit these things and perhaps rightly, and yet--"

"And yet?" I asked anxiously.

"Do not be alarmed," he answered quickly; "I am not going to advocate
intermarriage or assimilation. By this time you will, perhaps, have
gathered from what I said that I do not much believe in measures that
have to be advocated; rather do I favor the things that heart and soul
prompt us to do, whatever our beliefs and theories and in spite of them.
The advocacy of a thing, or the supposed necessity of advocating a
certain measure, proves the uselessness, untimeliness and futility of
it. It is hardly wise to advocate anything. Things must be brought about
by conditions to be of vital import. Least of all should any one ever
advocate intermarriage, and yet, and yet--do you remember these lines?


     "'_Two shall be born the whole wide world apart,_
     _And speak in different tongues and have no thought_
     _Each of the other's being, and no heed._
     _And these over unknown seas to unknown lands_
     _Shall cross, escaping wreck, defying death,_
     _And all unconsciously shape every act_
     _And bend each wandering step to this one end,_
     _That one day, out of darkness they shall meet_
     _And read life's meaning in each other's eyes._'


"Yes," he concluded, as we were about to part, "the world is growing
better than it ever was before--and it isn't because we have a more
efficient police force either."



XII

Home, the Last Resort


"There is no place like home," said Keidansky, "and there's nothing like
running away from it."

"What is the matter with the home?" I asked.

"Nothing," he answered, "except that very often everything is. You are
surprised?" he continued. "That's promising. Somehow when I see you
shocked it makes me feel as if I am saying something, and I am
encouraged to go on. What do I mean? Just this:

"There is no place that is so small, petty and narrow as the home is;
there is no place so close, cramped and crowded; so limited, restricted
and tape-measured. There's no place where there is such agreement, unity
and uniformity; where there is so much subordination, subjection and
coöppression--if you will pardon the coining of a word--as in the home;
no place where there is such conformity of opinion, speech and action;
where there is so much dependence, inter-dependence and
inter-domination; where so much good advice is given you, so many high
examples set up and so many paragons of perfection presented to you; no
place where there's so much upholding of old standards and so little
scope for building new ones; where respectability is regarded with such
reverence and the neighbors' say held so sacred; no place so lacking
initiative, so barren of originality, so devoid of daring--no place
where you are so tenderly cared for, so kindly comforted, so closely
watched, and so grossly misunderstood as the home. It is the most
dangerous place in the world.

"No, do not interrupt me--I know just what you are going to say. Let me
state it for you--while I am at it. What I said is blasphemy, of course,
and what you want to say is that the home is the garden where all our
virtues flower and bloom; that it is the foundation of our morals, the
birthplace of our highest ideals, the great character-builder, the
school of patriotism, the source of true religion, the protector of our
national life, the benign soul-uplifter, the place where goodness and
purity flourish, and the place where the best principles are
manufactured. I know just what you are going to say because I, too, have
heard some sermons and have read some after-dinner speeches in my life.
And I do not say that these utterances are altogether misleading. There
is some good, I doubt not, in a sermon and some shadow of truth even in
an after-dinner speech. But because the home has ever been the subject
of indiscriminate encomiums and puffy panegyrics, no one has ever dared
to say anything against it. It has not been treated as a human
institution, and so many crimes have been committed in its good name. It
is because these beautiful things about it are, or are supposed to be,
that so many of us have been sentenced to stay home without a proper
trial.

"Granting even that the halo is not hollow and that home is the ideal
place it is pictured to be, the admission is perhaps the strongest
argument against it and for running away from it; for, in that case, the
home is almost too good a place to stay in, too tame and agreeable, a
nest of the neutral, a triumph of the negative, maybe, and hardly a
place where you can grow, learn, enlarge and expand distinctly and in
your own way. I fear me that in any case home is about the last resort
where one can express his individuality and become fully equipped to
grapple with the world and those who own it. Do not misunderstand me. No
one intends to wage wanton war against that which is held in reverence.

"The radical is only ahead of time because all the others are behind it.
No one wishes to abolish merely for the sake of abolition. There is no
satisfaction in mere annihilation. No one wishes it. Wisdom and folly
have the same intention. To say that the most destructive radical and
the most orthodox conservative are in perfect agreement as far as their
aim is concerned will be dangerously near uttering a commonplace. Both
seek well-being and happiness. There was a time when there was a little
difference between the two; when one of the two parties wanted to
postpone that welfare unto another life; but now, in this hasty age,
both demand all that it is possible to procure here and now. There may
be difference of opinion, but there is no difference of intention. The
object of all is to preserve the virility of our being, the veracity of
soul, the strength to do and to be. There may be a question as to my
being a conservative, but there is no doubt that I am a conservator. I
would conserve everything that is conducive to growth and happiness.
What I believe, what I say, has this object in view. And having this in
view, I realize that in the course of human events it ever and anon
becomes necessary to demolish the divinities that be.

"If I seem to attack this sacred institution it is because it has a very
seamy, sore and searing side to it. In the first place there are usually
parents at home. What a pity that parents and children cannot be of the
same age; that there cannot be some understanding between them. What a
sorrow that those who brought us into the world should have no sympathy
with us--that those whom we love most should understand us least; that
there should be such conflicting contrasts in feeling, in thought, in
temperaments and tendencies. But regrets do not alter circumstances.
They exist and they are obdurate. The old look backward: the young look
forward. The old have become hardened, inured to things and indifferent:
to the young this is the greatest danger. The old are relics of the
past; the young are the hopeful heirs of the future. To the former life
is a lost game, to the latter it is a beautiful dream. The old stand
with their backs to the rising sun, with their faces towards their
graves; they belong to a dying world and--the pity of it!--they would
shape the destinies of those who belong to the glorious future; they
would make the children prematurely wise and deprive them of most of the
fun in life and all the benefits that come from folly, error and
indiscretion. Age would convince youth that life is real and earnest and
a practical business--which is not true in the case of youth--and should
not be. There is constant disagreement, or agreement--which is often
worse, for it implies submission of the weaker party. The freedom of the
young is ever curtailed. The home is often their prison. Youth and age
is a bad match, and that's the disadvantage of home. See this moonlight:
it is beautiful, is it not? But a flower must have sunshine in which to
bloom. All respect for age: but youth must have freedom.

"I hope this is not true of many phases of life; but I am thinking now
of a condition in the Ghetto that creates appalling misery, a condition
that makes the home a most desirable place--to run away from. Between
the Jewish children, who have acquired their uplifting education here in
American schools and their parents, who have brought their ignorance and
fanaticism over from Russia--where the despotism of the throne and the
tyranny of the Torah have united in making the densest, darkest
Ghettos--between these children and parents there is a difference in
time and progress of several hundred years. I would like to pause here
and tell you about the Jewish religion--how it has enlightened the world
and darkened the life of the Jews, victims of fatal fanaticism; how the
world has accepted the spirit of Judaism in various forms and to its
benefit, and the Jews have remained bound by a thousand rigid rituals,
iron precepts, meaningless stuff about 'pots and pans,' to their awful
detriment--how they persecuted themselves when they could get no
Christian nation to do it for them--but there's no time to talk about
these things now; besides, I want to get back to the home. So many
things occur to me and I do not know what to say first. Write about it?
Perhaps, some day. It may be that I, too, have been cursed to live by
the sweat of my pen, but oh--I hate to write. Besides, what's the use?
It is too late to convert my people to Judaism, now.

"But what I mentioned before shows a pronounced phase of
misunderstanding, estrangement and division between children and
parents, also a good illustration of the bad, narrow, uncongenial home.

"Under any circumstances the old and the young are out of joint; but
here the clashing of interests is so accentuated that the condition is
heart-tearing. There are parents, crude, careless, callous, often
essentially material, mercenary, miserly, whose only mental occupation
is their blind, outlived fatalistic faith; they are Russian products,
and they cannot follow, cannot comprehend their Americanized,
intelligent, idealistic and aspiring boys and girls; they follow them,
but blindly, praise or blame indiscriminately; they cannot appreciate
the many and noble longings of these youths. No sympathy and the home
stiflingly small. Yes, they love each other, if there can be any love
without respect and understanding. These bright boys and girls that you
meet in the Ghetto, and who do so much towards the education of slum
students and settlement workers--they are what they are, not because,
but rather in spite of, their parents. They struggle and strive upward
alone and unaided, and also act as missionaries of civilization in their
homes. They beautify their little rooms with pictures and books and
trifles of art, and they play sweet music--but what is the use, I ask
you, of a thought, a work of art, a poem, a piece of music, if you
cannot share it with those who are near and, somehow, are dear to you.
What is the use of these things if you cannot share them with some one?
And what is to be done when there is no response at home? These children
are so lonely in their sorrows and in their joys, and the home is so
compressed, so 'kleinlich,' so 'eng' (only these German words can give
my meaning). How terrible to see the grandeur of the universe and have
no one to tell it to! How awful this yawning gulf in the Ghetto! If I
say harsh and bitter things it is because I have looked into it and seen
an appalling spectacle of crushed hearts, broken spirits, blighted
hopes, ruined lives, thwarted beings and stifled souls. I have looked
into the gulf, and this is why I want to jest about the holiest things
in the world.

"But speaking generally, home is a dangerous place, and he was a wise
sea captain who bribed his son--clandestinely gave him $50--to run away
from home. While away the youth will come in contact with realities,
learn what the world is, what it demands, and finally become big enough
to build his own home. Or, he will come back to be, at last, understood
and respected. But let him go forth. He will find everywhere pie that
will give him dyspepsia as badly as that which mother used to make.

"As it is, the home covers a multitude of sins. It is very faulty, and,
above all, it lacks perspective. The persons within it are not seen in
the proper light. They are either underestimated or overjudged. Home is
either a mutual admiration, or a mutual mutilation, society. Close as
the home is there is ever plenty of room for prejudice and illusion. The
lights in which things are seen are artificial--and so are the subjects.
If the child is a mediocrity, has graduated at the head of his class and
is a veritable phonograph for remembering facts, he is at once regarded
as a genius and not a little time and effort is wasted on him, and he is
sent forth to bore and prey upon an innocent world; but if he have real
talent and show it before any one has had time to decide that he has it,
his wings are clipped immediately and he is forthwith cast down and
discouraged. But there is always enough appreciation of talent to
discover a mediocrity. Home is the nest of nefarious nepotism, and
between that and disparaging prejudice, countless youths go to the
devil. The home judgments as to capacities, aptitudes and abilities are
tremendous. If a boy is color-blind, he is born to be a painter; if he
has no sense of proportion, why architecture is his sphere; if he
stammers, he is placed upon a chair, made to recite pieces, and hailed
as the coming orator; if he is a little bit hard of hearing, they
dedicate his life to music; if he has absolutely no imagination, they
say history is his field; they try to make a lawyer of him when he has a
wonderful proclivity for telling the truth, a merchant when he has a
fine sense of honesty--and, by heaven, they want to make a minister of a
fellow who has a sense of humor! One must leave home to find what he can
do; and then do it; and then come back and do what one can for the
education and welfare of his parents. Leave your home that you may
suffer hardships and learn, and then come back to cheer the old folks
up. Forgive them for what they have done to you with their sincerity and
devotion--and build your own home. But run away for awhile if you would
grow. It is too narrow and the atmosphere is not healthy. There is ever
disparagement, disagreement and fatal favoritism. No son ever walked in
the ways of his father; no father ever wanted him to do otherwise. There
is always someone at home who knows what is best for you, only you don't
want to mind. But, oh, the tyranny of tears, the despotism of tender
words, and the fearful sincerity of the intentions to do you good! All
inquisitors have been sincere. There is no need of arguing that there is
something radically wrong with the average home. Conditions prove it.
We are, most of us, running away from home to get acquainted with things
as they are--running away to the tune of 'Home, Sweet Home.' Even as we
hum the sweet melody, we go forth into life to get some education, make
our fortunes, and build our own homes. Do you remember 'Die Heimath,'
and how Magda is tortured by home and loving parents? It's the same
argument that Sudermann presented in this play, and again, in 'Die
Ehre,' he showed us phases of the home."

There was silence for a space, and then Keidansky continued: "Homes of a
thousand tender memories clustering from the cradle up through all the
paths of life; homes of kind deeds and unforgotten words; homes wherein
love and freedom are wedded, wherein the most beautiful dreams are born;
homes wherein folks look into each other's eyes and understand, wherein
there are no clouds of suspicion and misunderstanding, and each one is
taken at his worth; homes unblighted by cold wisdom, wherein the old are
young and the young are old--I have heard--I have read--of such homes."

The pale moonlight streamed into the open window of the attic. The
disorderly piles of books, heaps of old papers and magazines, the queer
little pictures about the walls, the small table with a confusion of all
things mentionable upon it--all these presented a strange picture in
this dimness. Keidansky sat on his bed, his head leaning against the
inclined ceiling.

It was this sense of home and comfort that prompted his remarks on the
subject. In the dusk the faces in the little pictures seemed to listen
attentively and change expression as he talked so fervidly. I sat in the
only chair in the room--thinking, wondering. I felt pensive.

"An extreme view, eh?" my friend asked after awhile, and he answered:
"Perhaps it is.

"And that reminds me," he added, "that you once said that my apparent
mission in life is to throw stones. Well, granting that it is, who shall
say that my task is not as important as any?"

And I, drowsily, absently, also asked, "Who shall say?"



XIII

A Jewish Jester


They were telling stories of Motke Chabad, the jester, who many years
ago lived, moved and had his joke on everybody in the city of Wilna,
where he was well known (but not so well liked) as the troublesome town
clown. After nearly everybody in one group at Zarling's had contributed
a Chabad yarn to the general entertainment, the question arose as to
whether there ever really existed such a personage as the redoubtable
Motke. He had said and done so many impossible things that it became a
matter of wonder whether he had said and done them at all. So daring
were his utterances, so strange his adventures, his queer pranks so
preposterous, that he was considered by some to be an imaginary
character. He possessed those vices of individuality which art raises to
the dignity of virtues. He had become a tradition, and so a matter of
doubt and speculation. This last was clear at our discussion. The poet
suggested that, whether Motke ever existed or not, he was certainly a
great humorist. But even this did not satisfy us. We were bent upon
investigation. The medical student made a motion that we ask Zarling,
who is a native of Wilna and at least has known some one who knew
Chabad; but here Keidansky protested. "Do not ask any one," he said,
"who has known, or known of, him closely; his description would be too
familiar, intimate, personal, and it would mar and discolor the halo
that tradition had cast about him. No, do not ask the Czar, for he knows
too much about him and those who were near our hero never understood his
significance. You must have perspective to see the picturesque, even as
you must be a poet to see that which does not exist. It is only for the
blind that an eye-witness can write history. Artistically speaking, the
closer you get to life the less you know about it. Realism fails because
it takes the existence of reality for granted. Because it becomes
systematic and too sure of its subject. Those who have known, those who
have touched elbows with Chabad or his brother's grandchildren, will be
accurate, but not truthful. To describe a person truly, one must include
all its infinite possibilities of failure or success--what he might have
been, what he longed to be, what he could not be with his given
conditions, what he was not, what he was believed to be, etc., and he
who has decided all about the exact measure of a person cannot fathom
his possibilities. We are all so sure of the conditions of contemporary
life that it will take a succeeding generation to know all about it.

"And I am not trying to hinder the work of this investigation, because
it may prove the non-existence of Chabad. That would not matter in the
least, for the anecdotes and tales that are being circulated in his
name, and his storied misadventures and gloried misdeeds create him in
fancy and he exists in imagination--which is all that is necessary for
one desiring to point out the benign and malignant work of the scoffer.
But he did exist, so we are told by those who have known some one who
knew him intimately. He did exist, because, while we have superfluous
virtues to attribute to all sorts of saints who did live, we have not a
superfluity of humor to ascribe to one who has never been. Some one must
have given birth to these things which we can all admire but could not
create. Some one must have been witty enough to think these things, and
reckless enough to say them. We all have the convictions, but he had the
courage, and that was long ago.

"He did exist, this beggar, braggart, buffoon, town-gossip, dealer in
wind and old clothes, match-maker, man of all occupations and no means
of existence, practical joker and general jester of the Ghetto of Wilna;
for such he was and as such he did his good work. He was an outcast, and
as such he ministered to the sanity of society that hath cast him out,
and kept it from going to the extremes of stupidity. For so it is; the
outcast reduces respectability to the ridiculous; the criminal points to
the futility of the law; the rascal shows the relativity of right; the
infidel reforms and enlarges our religion; the enemy of order advances
our progress; the earthly materialist proves the baselessness of all our
idealisms; the ascetic demonstrates the stupidity of excess; the
prohibitionist drives us to drink; the strongest accusation convicts the
accuser; the plaint of the pessimist makes life interesting; the tyrant
gives the greatest lesson in freedom; men write books to prove what
fools they are, and the jester suggests what a tragic farce it all is.
So many efforts in life, life itself defeats its own purpose. It is the
undesired that happens. Help comes not from heaven because we expect it
from that source. They who break laws to suit their own convenience make
larger laws for the welfare of society. I told you before that the
outcasts of society are often its saviors.

"Now be in order, gentlemen. I have the floor this time. This is my
chance to get killed. Not to the point? But there are many points to
this, and if I have deviated from one I was only getting so much nearer
the other. I was trying to show what good this scoffer and sycophant has
done, and to point out the value of the jest. God created the world and
he saw what he was 'up against,' so he smiled, and thus humor was born.
After awhile the divine flashlights from on high began to play
hide-and-seek in the unlit chambers of the human brain; men became
possessed of the sense of humor, and this was the awakening and dawn of
civilization. The lightnings of the mind which suddenly reveal the
multitudinous contradictions of life, the mental illuminations which
cause the immediate recognition of the incongruous, the flash which
makes you see all in a moment, the wide view which makes the universe as
small as the lantern in your hand, the whimsicality of thought forever
creating unsuspected analogies and unexpected comparisons, the sense of
proportion which reduces all things to what they are, or should be,
truth seen through the falsehoods, the sureties discovered through the
absurdities, the exactness of things measured through their
exaggerations, miracles of instantaneous reasoning and feats of
ingenious deductions, the intellectual rapid transit between the sublime
and the ridiculous, which keeps you from going to either extreme, the
magic charm which keeps you above the abysses of the stupid, small and
great, the bright footlights to the tragedy of life--such, in brief, is
humor. And what else is there that is so powerful to prevent
extravagances, to check excesses, to arrest all sorts of frenzies, to
curtail abnormal credulity, to sober all kinds of intoxications? In the
Ghetto, as everywhere else, humor is the saving presence; it makes
existence tolerable, and preserves the sanity of the little journey to
the grave. It was dark and dismal and dreary and dingy in the Russian
Ghettos, and life had the color of last year's snow, and it all seemed
like a funeral procession in a sultry, rainy weather; from without we
were harassed by our enemies; from within we were harried by our
friends, our guardians of sacred law and traditional superstition; it
was sad and sorrowful, and so we jested. God sent us some sunshine in
the form of such scoffers and outcasts as Motke Chabad, and we laughed.
We laughed and forgot to weep. Humor is essentially pathetic, but the
absence of it is tragic. Did we not laugh a little we could not have
lived. Humor, my friends, is the redeeming grace. If you have ever been
very serious in life, why, you can laugh it down. What shall we do to be
saved? Cultivate a sense of humor.

"How could we have lived it through without a Chabad? With a smug,
smooth, sullen, soulless respectability that moves along the lines of
least daring and most obedience, that cannot do any good because it must
fulfil the _Taryag Mitzves_--the 313 precepts--that commit all sorts of
prescribed follies on earth to be admitted into heaven, that divides its
time between praying in the synagogue three times a day and preying upon
its less fortunate neighbors the rest of the time, with a mob of
skull-capped numskulls that did not think because its mind was made
up--has been made up for it centuries ago--a crowd that would not move
an inch because, as is insisted, 'the hell that was good enough for our
fathers, is good enough for us'--with a class of good people like that,
how should we have fared if we had not had a Motke to chastise it with
his jests and jeers and sneers and arrows of scorn? He laughed with the
lowly and for them; he was on the side of reason as against precept; he
stood for natural needs as against supernatural suppositions; he was one
of the under-dogs, but he barked loudly for their cause, and his service
shall not be forgotten as long as we have a sense of humour left--as
long as we are human! Crude were his jests, and clownish most of his
jokes; did he have the talent of a Heine or Bürne, he could not be what
they were without their possibilities; he was a rough-hewn,
Ghetto-enclosed child of darkness, but he did his work in his own way,
and the work told the story.

"God has spoiled his chosen people by choosing them. Many of them are
stiff-necked, stubborn, reactionary; and they do countless things in the
name that would not countenance it. As often as not the powers that be
in Jewish communities are haughty, proud, unjustly aggressive, and they
prey upon and oppress the humbler children of Israel. It is well that
there should ever be some one constantly to criticise, castigate, scold,
and Carlyle these powers that be and guard and interpret the law. So, in
a sense, every good Jew should be an anti-Semite. He should beware of
the abuses of organized bureaucracy by leaders of the community. He
should be opposed to the inimical doings of the united many. United
action is seldom good action. The individual should look out for the
crowd. In organization, every one gives up part of his soul, and so even
organized religions are soulless. So let the good Jew keep an eye on
what the leaders in Judaism are doing, and to make sure that he is
right, let him put his ear to the ground and listen to the voice of the
rejected prophet and blasphemous jester.

"Many stories of Chabad have been told, but a few things may be
mentioned to help me out of my poor plight, to illustrate my meaning.
Thus, once upon a stormy day, when the rain and thunder and lightning
became fearful and awesome, Motke was seen running through a street of
Wilna, at his greatest possible speed, frantically waving his hands. A
few Jews witnessing this, and overtaking him, stopped him, demanding
what the trouble was. 'Such terrible thunder and lightning,' said he,
all out of breath; 'I fear me that the Almighty is about to give us a
new Law!' Here is a blessed bit of blasphemy which strikingly voices the
protest of a law-entangled, ritual-ridden, tradition-tied people against
the grinding yoke of the Torah. There is a story by another Ghetto
jester, driving at the same evil. There came a time once--so the story
runs--when the children of Israel became weary of this heavy yoke, when
they could no longer live up to the laws forced upon them amid the
dramatic effects of Sinai, when they could no longer bear all the
sufferings and persecutions that living up to these laws entailed, and
they prayed to God that they might be delivered from the Law, that they
might be permitted to return to him the Tables of Stone; and the
Uppermost consented to take it all back; and so, upon a day, the Jews
from all corners of the earth started on a journey toward Mount Sinai,
with heavy-laden trains and ships and caravans of scrolls and Biblical
Commentaries. They came from all parts of the world--from East and West,
North and South, from the Occident and the Orient; there were all
manner of Jews, and they came by all means of transportation, but they
all labored painfully under their tremendous loads, which they brought
to be returned. At Sinai, they were to give up their burdens. Arrived
there, they piled up their great packs of 'precept upon precept' around
the holy elevation, until their luggage formed a mountain larger than
Sinai. When the Uppermost appeared in his invisible, yet blinding glory,
he asked for the meaning of this huge mountain of books, and the Jews,
with their faces to the ground, cried, 'It is the Law. Take it, O Lord.'
The Lord--so runs the story--was astonished at this, and he told the
chosen people that only ten simple rules of living had been given to
them at Sinai. He knew nothing of all these volumes. These multitudes of
laws and endless commentaries were of men's making, not of his giving.
They were empty vaporings of idle brains. He refused to take the Law
back in its present form. So the Jews journeyed to their respective
homes in all parts of the world, wiser, if not relieved of their
burdens. I was irresistibly reminded of this story, and could not help
telling it. It is the product of a far more subtle brain than Chabad's
was. I do not remember the name of the author now, but he and Chabad
unwittingly worked for the same cause."

A boisterous group of "dancing-school fellows," as "the intellectuals"
called them, entered the place, demanding, at the point of their pay,
something to eat. Keidansky's audience became restless. But he
persistently kept on, despite all kinds of interruptions.

"Religion, as you all know, is the absence of the sense of humor," he
said. "It goes to all sorts of absurd extremes. Its tower commands but
one view of life, and that view is marred by emotion. When faith is not
blind, it is, at least, short-sighted. The loyal member of the sect is
not a seer. Enthusiasts are painfully one-sided. They see, or rather
they feel, but one side. All their glances are on one thing. So we need
the man with humor, who can see all things in one glance. The jester is
the wide-eyed, all-observing fellow. He is the many-sided, much-seeing
man. The sense of humor is the true sense of proportion, and it has been
rightly urged that only the humorists have perceived and painted life as
it is. Only they have presented life in all its largeness. Of course,
the humorists, who merely chose to jest and not write great tragedies,
did not do such things, but they were ever great reformers. The man who
laughs can be deeply religious without being a pietist: he can be deeply
religious, yet behave decently; his existence is a sure cure for
hysteria. He infuses a little reason into things which prevents the
sublime from becoming ridiculous.

"A maggid, or preacher, once announced that he had written a new
commentary upon the 'Hagadah.' 'What!' everybody asked, 'are there not
enough commentaries already in existence?' 'Yes,' said Chabad, 'but he
cannot make a living out of those.' At a wedding of the Jewish
aristocracy of Wilna, where wealth was flaunted pompously, Motke was
asked to say something funny. 'All the rich men of Wilna ought to be
hanged,' he said. The wealthy guests were scandalized. 'Wherein is the
joke?' they asked. 'It is no joke,' said Motke.

"In the synagogue students of the Talmud were disputing a point
concerning the use or rejection of an egg 'with a blood-drop' in it--a
point to which so many pages of the holy books are devoted. 'Why don't
you throw the rotten egg out?' said Motke, who stood near. 'What's the
use of wasting so much time?'

"Once, it is told, when all his resources were at an end, Chabad went to
the burial committee of the town, told the members that his wife had
died and asked for the means of performing the last rites and
ceremonies. He accordingly secured a few roubles, and when the
committee-men and their officials came to take charge of the body, they
found Motke, his wife and children, at their table enjoying a bountiful
feast of roasted goose and things.

"'Gentlemen,' exclaimed the master of the household, 'you will have her;
I swear to you, you will have her. She is yours; it is only a question
of time.'

"'Fare thee well,' said Motke one day to a rich merchant. 'I am going
away, and all I want of you is a few roubles for expenses.' His request
was refused. 'Then I am not going,' he announced, 'and you need not
fare well.' Chabad was also a match-maker, and his humor made him the
best caricature of the institution. Thus once he came to a young man to
speak of a match with a certain young woman. 'Oh, but she is lame,'
protested the young man. 'Yes,' Chabad admitted, 'but that will keep her
home, and prevent her from going out too much.' 'But she is blind,' the
young man argued. 'So much the better,' said the _shadchen_; 'she will
not see you flirting with other women.' 'She is also deaf,' insisted the
youth. 'That is certainly fortunate,' was the reply; 'you will be able
to say what you please in the house.' 'But she is also dumb,' pleaded
the victim. 'Still better,' Motke assured him. 'There will always be
quiet and peace in your home.' 'But she is also humpbacked!' the young
man cried out in anger. 'Well, well,' said Chabad, 'do you expect her to
be without a single fault?' Now I am almost ready for the maledictions,"
said Keidansky, as he was nearing the close of his argument, but I was
suddenly called away.



XIV

What Constitutes the Jew?


One day when I made a perilous ascent to Keidansky's garret, barely
escaping harm through boxes and barrels and darkness and things in the
way, I found him hard at work on an article--this time in the English
language--on "What Constitutes the Jew?" A kind and interested editor to
whom I had the honor of introducing him, asked my discovery to write on
the subject, and pleased with the suggestion he took it up. He motioned
to an up-turned coal scuttle for a seat as I entered, and bade me take a
Jewish paper and be quiet. While I waited he finished his essay. "I
haven't any time to talk to you," he said, looking disconsolate and
running his long fingers through his curly black hair: "I want to read
you this thing I've just scribbled. There he goes again--" he broke off
in despair, as the old man in the next attic began to chant the Psalms.
"But I shall read louder than he does," said Keidansky, "I pay rent
here--sometimes--and King David, the fruit vendor, in there, sha'n't put
me down." I listened, and he read as follows:

"And after we have read about him in the comic weeklies, have seen him
delineated in popular works of fiction, have observed him caricatured in
various publications, have beheld him portrayed on the vaudeville stage
and have heard from the slum student of the Ghetto; after we have
visited a few money lenders--on important business--have heard our
minister talk patronizingly of him, telling pityingly of how he hath a
great past and possessed more than a few commendable qualities, and of
how he was, alas! doomed to damnation because he would not accept the
religion that he hath given to the world; after we have bought clothing
in one of his stores, taken a personal peep at the Ghetto, met a
reformed rabbi, conversed with a distant descendant of his people, read
the polite charges of his friend, the anti-Semite, and gone down and
made beautiful speeches before him prior to the election; I say even
after we have done these things, or some of these things have happened
to us, we must still ask the question: What constitutes the Jew?

"For, of a verity, he is so complex in his character, so heterogeneous
in his general composition, so diverse in his activities, so many sided
in his worldly and heavenly pursuits, so widely varying in his
appearance, so wonderfully ubiquitous, and withal such a living
contradiction, that even after we have made the above painful efforts to
understand him, we are still at a loss to know--what we know about him.

"He represents one of the ancient races and yet is as up to date as any;
he reaches deepest into the past and looks furthest into the future; he
is the narrowest conservative and the most advanced radical; in religion
he is the most dogmatic, sectarian, stationary, orthodox, and also the
most liberal and universal reformer; he is a member of the feeblest and
strongest people on earth; he has no land of his own and he owns many
lands; his wealth is the talk and the envy of the world, and none is so
poor as he; his riches have ever been magnified and exaggerated, his
dire poverty ever overlooked. 'As poor as a Jew' would be a truer simile
than the one now in use. He is the infamous Shylock, the money-lender,
yet he borrows as much and more money than he lends to others, only he
pays his debts and so there is no talk about it; Christians and others
who borrow from him go to court, denounce him, call him Shylock, and
give him several pounds of 'tongue,' though he asks not for flesh,
because it is not 'kosher,' and because whatever he is he is never
cruel. Come to think of it, what a fine thing the Shylock story has ever
been for those who did not want to pay their debts!

"He loans money to kings, and the kings oppress the Jews; he is the
great concentrator of wealth, and he is the Socialist and Anarchist
working ardently for the abolition of the private ownership of wealth;
he is eminently practical, and is ever among the world-forgetting
dreamers, 'the great host of impracticables'; he has no fine arts of his
own, and he carries off the highest prizes for his glorious contribution
to the arts of the nations. Now he is exclusively confined to his own
Hebrew, religious lore, believing that beyond it there are no heights to
scale, no depths to fathom, and then he becomes a Georg Brandes, a
great interpreter of the literatures of the world; his own literature is
so Puritanical, so religious and chaste that there is hardly a single
love song to be found therein, and then comes a Heinrich Heine. He is
the slave of traditions and the first to break them; persecute him and
he will die for the religion of his fathers; give him freedom and he
will pity them for their crude conceptions and applaud Ingersoll; he is
intensely religious and the rankest infidel; he condemns the theatre as
being immoral, and he is the first to hail Ibsen and applaud him, even
on the Yiddish stage; there is no one so clannish and so cosmopolitan as
he is, and these contrasts can be multiplied to the abuse of time and
space.

"If, then, he is everything and to be found anywhere, to be seen in all
sorts of circumstances, in all walks of life and walking in so many
diverse ways, making his way in such strongly contrasting conditions,
how shall we know him? How shall we know what constitutes the Jew? He
does not always abide in the Ghetto, and, things are coming to such a
pass, that he rarely has the old Ghetto appearance. I suppose if our
dear Mr. Zangwill had his own way he would fill the world with Ghettos.
He could use them in his business. But perhaps the time is drawing nigh
when we must have the books of Mr. Zangwill and other works of such
excellence to preserve the most picturesque life of a unique people and
save it from oblivion. The Ghetto walls are falling, falling.

"Old-fashioned folk, like other things, go out of fashion. The
old-style long garb, the 'capota,' will take itself away after the toga,
and such is the awful power of civilization that even the time-honored
skull-caps of the men and the wigs of the women are vanishing before it.
Time, with its scythe, cuts down even the curling sidelocks and the long
beards dear to tradition. Up-to-date fashion is a democratic tyrant, an
expansionist invading and permeating all places and peoples. So we
cannot count on these externals. Physiognomy is another thing by which
to be misguided. Other outer details may help us as much as medicine can
help the dead--or the living, for that matter. Then there are names.
What's in a name? An opportunity for misunderstanding. One cannot even
know himself by his name. All these artificial designations do not
designate.

"What, then, are the telling traits, the conspicuous characteristics by
which the typical, representative Jew may be known? Now I am blissfully
ignorant of anthropology, and could not analyze scientifically, even at
the risk of being destroyed critically. But through a certain
accident--an accident of birth--I may be enabled to make a few
suggestions, which I will offer with all due and undue apologies, of
course.

"First and foremost I should mention his wonderful versatility; he is
the most versatile actor in this play called life. He has acquired this
versatility throughout his wanderings, sufferings, trials and
tribulations, and, together with his prodigious adaptability, it
constitutes the secret of his survival. Originally a being of the
highest talent with the radiant glow of the Orient upon his brow, he had
walked through the histories of many nations, and being persecuted by
all peoples who recognized his talent, he received a most liberal
education in the school of sorrow. Thus his abilities were cultivated
and he learned to adapt himself easily to all circumstances and to
create his own little world wherever he pitched his tent.

"Mentally alert, keen of comprehension, quick to grasp any situation,
almost too shrewd to be wise, practical to the detriment of his high
ideals, calm, careful, cautious, calculating, hopeful in the face of
despair, optimistic to a discouraging degree, often too regular and
respectable to become great; intensely individualistic, proud of his
past, anxious about the future, ever devoted to his cause,
self-appreciatory, at times too sure of his capabilities, confident in
the ultimate decency of things, deeply in love with life--these are
among the qualities that may be attributed to the Jew.

"His isolated, peculiar and purely religious life, 'the spiritual
Palestine' which he has carried along with him in his wanderings through
the darkness and cold of the Ghettos, has under all circumstances and in
all hazards preserved those fine domestic and social qualities for which
he is noted. What can now be said about his domesticity, his love of
home and care of family; his sobriety, thrift, peacefulness and good
deportment, the readiness with which he cares for his poor, his public
spirit in the interests of his community--wherever that may be--his
unequalled kindness; what can now be said about these things would be
mere repetition; but these are nevertheless some of the undisputed
qualities which constitute the Jew. Believing himself chosen of God, he
has strong faith in the part he plays, the work he does, and the mission
he is to perform with his being. And like others who have much faith in
themselves, he has abundance of conceit. But let us not call it that.
'Sublime egotism' sounds so much better, and besides, the line of
demarcation between the two is so fine that it does not exist. The Jew
is strongly individualistic in his social tendencies, and for that
reason often so progressive. He dares to deviate from the trodden path.
He is not always in harmony with the rest of his community in which
there is from time to time much discord--discord that sometimes amounts
to war. Thus the persecution of the Jews often begins at home. His
receptive mental attitude often brings him into the ranks of the most
radical, despite his traditions, which would hold him back.

"He has talent to waste, and much of it is really wasted because he
lacks opportunity for cultivation and frequently has not the required
concentration and application. Perhaps it is better so; for if all
Jewish talent was brought out in the various forms of greatness, what
would--what would the anti-Semites not say? They would say that the Jews
have stolen their talents. For anti-Semitism is the cry of despair of
defeated mediocrity, or it is the plaint of the blinded Christian
maddened by jealousy because he has been beaten by the wandering Jew in
his own game of trade, commerce, politics, or art. But the Jew is kind,
his kindness is unsurpassed, and the Hebrew line in which his people are
called 'merciful sons of the merciful' is literally true. He pities the
anti-Semite as he pities all who suffer and who are in want of the good
things and the good qualities of life.

"The Jew is a great possibility. Sensitive of and susceptible to all
things, to the very color of the atmosphere around him, with a soul
sharpened by sorrow and a mind of keenest understanding, he can become
anything and everything, assimilate himself with any and all conditions,
and illustrate life with a new meaning or adorn it with a worthy work.
He is like unto an Æolian harp on which various breezes play various
tunes.

"His beautiful, consecrated, peaceful, religious, home life, the life
wherein the home is a synagogue and the synagogue is a home, this on the
one hand and the strange world with its hard realities, with its
stumbling-blocks and stunning blockheads, on the other, have created in
the Jew a striking two-sidedness, a kind of duality and, if I may so
call it, a sort of conciliation between the ideal and the real. This
forms another trait by which you may tell him. Thus he is very
practical, and still dreams, hopes for the restoration of Palestine, and
loves his home and his country wherever he abides. He is an ardent
Zionist and a good citizen at the same time.

"Murder, or any other kind of talent, will out. Say rather that talent
will out even if it must come in the shape of murder, so to speak.
People capable of the highest good and noblest greatness are often cast
down into the abyss of degradation by their loving neighbors, or other
circumstances. People must live, you know, and therefore they often live
a living death. Not permitted to live rightly and happily, they still
must live somehow. The instinct of self-preservation preserves much
evil, but life is life. Those who have talent and are not permitted to
use it for the good of all, use it for their own temporal good,
regardless of the consequences. The thought that I wish to leave here as
we part with the Jew is: That they who walk in darkness find the ways
that are dark. Over-praise is damning, and I want to be careful. The Jew
has on the whole been far, far better than he has been permitted to
be--and this, too, is one of the charges against him. He is a graduate
of the school of sorrow, with the highest honors.

"What is that story about the man who in his long quest after the ideal,
at last found her in the woman who has suffered?

"Well, here is the Jew, a being who has suffered."



XV

The Tragedy of Humor


"Sometimes," said Keidansky, "it is grossly immoral to live up to your
highest principle." And in reply to my half-uttered protest, he quickly
continued: "No, no; I am not jesting. It's a sad business, this jesting
about the human tragedy. For what is it but mocking each other's wounds,
laughing at one another's infirmities in this great lazaretto, where we
are all pitiful patients? What is it but scoffing at our sores, grinning
at our gashes, deriding our diseases, laughing at our own weaknesses?
No, I am not jesting," and the speaker eyed me strangely as he looked up
from his manuscript on the little table in Machtell's café.

"Beneath the levity is lead," he said slowly. "Behind all the fun is
crushing failure. Behind all the satire is sorrowful shortcoming. Behind
the smile is a searing smart. Grief lurks in the grin. Through all the
drollery despair peers forth, and there is nothing more lugubrious than
laughter. Comedy is made up of error, failure, confusion,
misunderstanding, misfortune, misdirected efforts and wasted energy.
Whenever error ends fatally it is called tragic, but that is not the
worst. The real tragedy is not the play that ends with the death of the
leading characters, but the one in which they are condemned to struggle
and live on and laugh and be laughed at. Each one of us is his own
caricature. There is so little to do, yet we all overdo it. We all
reduce our lives to absurdities. Our efforts exaggerate their importance
and betray our barbarities.

"We overdraw our characters and all our lifetime suffer in our own
estimation. The more serious we are the more extravagant is the farce.
As we creep along the roads, the shadows we cast mock and menace us.

"We are poor debtors, all. With infinite intentions in a world of
infinitesimal possibilities, our efforts constantly caricature and
cartoon our aims. All our works are filled with comic illustrations
galore. We make them ourselves, and they overshadow our works. Did you
ever see any one fall on the street and a lot of lookers-on laugh? Well,
that is in a measure the history and interpretation of humor.

"We seek and do not find; we fight and do not conquer; we play and do
not win; we attempt, but do not achieve; we aspire and do not attain; we
desire and are not gratified; we long for light yet grope on in
darkness; we struggle and are defeated; we strive for salvation and
discover it to be a mere sham; our labor is lost, our love is not
returned, our devotion is not understood, our wings are broken at the
point of flying, all our yearnings are in vain; and then, the newspaper
humorist writes half a column of pointed jottings out of these things;
or else the literary comedian will prepare a series of funny papers. Do
you understand now what an appalling, grim and gruesome spectacle there
is behind all these little jests? And how tragic it is for the humorist
who sees it all? They say that a Scotchman laughs on the third day after
he hears a joke. It does not take so long to find that there is nothing
to laugh at. It is all so sad. Think what a tremendous tragedy the funny
paragrapher sums up in a few lines and sells to 'Puck' for $2.98. Come,
take up a column of comicalities in any publication and see what is at
the bottom of every jest. What is it about? Is it about a man and a
woman linked together by law, with a Chinese wall of misunderstanding
between them, 'so strangely unlike and so strongly attached to each
other' that it is hell for both of them? Or, is it about a woman who
wears her life away in the farce of 'Vanitas Vanitatum?' Is it about the
greedy mercenary who loses his soul to gain the world? Or is it about
one who gives up the world to gain nothing?

"Is it about an enthusiastic youth who, to escape the materialism of his
surroundings, jumps from the frying-pan into Bohemia; or is it about a
philosopher who, gazing at the stars, falls into a mud puddle? Is it
about the poet starving in a garret, or is it about the artist lost in
the quest of the unattainable? Is it about the moral principle trampled
under foot because of the material advantage, or is it about the low
life of him who longs for the highest? What is it about? Is it about a
man who bleeds and a woman who laughs, or is it about beings who sell
themselves for life with promises to love, honor, cherish and protect?
Is it about some one groping in darkness, grappling with the impossible,
or is it about a great republic gone mad over the visit of an effete
representative of monarchy? Perhaps it is about a bright American girl
in quest of a titled idiot, or else about a being so degraded that he is
in mortal fear of work and has a horror for soap! It may be about
mediocrity dreaming of talent, of failures chasing the phantoms of
success, of fading beauty, waning love, of the stumbling of the blind,
or of any and all the confusions of error and the thousands of
misunderstandings of the home and of people who are near and fail to be
dear to each other. The list is too long. It can never be exhausted. But
at the bottom of any one of the jests, old or new, you will find an
excruciating little tragedy. It is all so sad, sorrowful and depressing.
The humor of the situation? Say rather the tragedy of the case.

"And to look behind, to peer through the panorama, to see all this, to
have a sense of humor and to have it bad, is not such a cheerful thing
as it is thought to be, for it is also a sense of our hopelessness. It
is a sad business, this jesting about the human tragedy--or the human
farce. In other words, it is to see the futility of all our efforts, the
failure of all our fighting, the uselessness of our aspirations, the
emptiness of our aims, the vanity of our strivings, the nothingness of
it all. Life, with all its faults and foibles and failures, with all its
incongruities, irreconcilables, clashes and unfitnesses, stretches out
before you as just so much material for sardonic satire. Scrambling,
squabbling, scurrying, seething, squally squads and crowds of humanity,
how gruesomely grotesque it all is and how ludicrous! With all its
heroics, brave deeds and still greater bravadoes, with all its gloried
wonders and wonderful achievements, with all its glorious boasts, lofty
hopes and superb masteries, with all our arts and philosophies, humanity
and the whole world seems to me like a swarming mole-hill, and at times
moves me to nothing but to laughter. It is so ridiculous, all the
mimicry of the whole microcosm. Tell me, have you ever been seized by a
sense of the utter absurdity of it all, so that you laughed and laughed
until there were tears of blood, almost, in your eyes?

"I wonder if you know what it is to have a mocking demon within you to
laugh and leer at everything you do, at every step you take, at your
best deeds, finest words, greatest strides, noblest endeavors. Imagine a
voice that at every turn of the road--especially when you act your
grandest, talk your loudest, achieve your highest--that at every turn of
the road exclaims: 'How absurd, how silly of you!' Imagine a state of
mind when all is farce around you and your own caricature is your
constant companion. Such things happen to some people, and to them
everything is so unreal, so absurd, so stupid; the greatest events, the
sublimest utterances, are ever so laughable. The more seriously the
people play their parts the more ridiculous the performance seems. The
greater the tragedy the more laughter. What is so funny as Hamlet's
soliloquy? What are so laughable as the ravings of Job? And so it
sometimes feels with the other sublimely sad things that have been
written. The moving finger writes, and the mocking voice within
laughs--laughs at everything and you can take nothing seriously. You
take up the best, the most pathetic things you have written yourself,
and even these make you smile. Such things have been said before and
they were absurd and out of place--in the first place. Whatever you do
you hear the mocking voice from within say: 'Silly creature, those
things have been done before, and they have only led fools to their
dusty death.' You whisper the sweetest things, prompted by love to your
lady fair, and the voice from within: 'Silly fool, these things have
been said before and the course of true love never did run long.' You
have a feeling that it is all histrionic, all acting, all farce, and
that we are all overdoing our parts tremendously. Strutting, swaggering,
blustering, bombastic swashbucklers all. It is not life. It is an
historical novel. It will sink into nothingness. '_O, Thor, du Thor, du
prahlender Thor!_' Do you remember Bret Harte's parody on Hugo's 'Les
Misérables'? So easily is the sublime tipped over and made ridiculous.
'Tis but a slight step from pathos to bathos. But wait until I address
this letter to the New York 'Abend Blatt.' Abe Cahan came over here and
spoke for the Socialists this afternoon, so I wrote the thing up. He is
in the other room with that blatant crowd of Jewish actors. They are
taking him to task for one of his reviews in the 'Arbeiter Zeitung' of a
recent performance of theirs. They never know exactly what a critic
means except when he does not criticise. They are to give here Gordin's
'Jewish King Lear' to-morrow night. You don't know Cahan? He is one of
the brightest, biggest men in our movement. I come in here," Keidansky
explained, "because these actors are so ignorant of the conventions,
simple and natural, and I like them for it.

"There is a story by J. L. Peretz," Keidansky continued, after he had
folded up and addressed his communication, "that I want to tell you
apropos of what I have been saying. Peretz is one of the literary
masters of to-day, but he writes in Yiddish, so the world misses his
greatness. The story is about a reformer, a revolutionary, an idealist.
He addresses a meeting in behalf of his cause, speaks fervently,
passionately, 'spits fire,' waves a sharp sword at his audience and
makes a ringing appeal for the truth. In the room where he speaks there
is a mirror. Accidentally he looks into it. He sees himself. His
enthusiasm leaves him at once, his fervor vanishes, he loses his power
of speech, becomes calm, indifferent, and finishes his oration in
disgust. He no longer feels the saint and hero he felt. While speaking
so excitedly he looked like a murderer in the mirror. After this he has
an unearthly dream about the part of hell that is allotted to reformers.
When he wakes up he receives a postal card asking him to come to
another meeting of the revolutionists. He immediately burns the card.
This is giving but the faintest outlines of the story, but you see
Peretz, like Heine, also has the sense of humor developed to a tragic
extent--to the extent of seeing the absurdity, futility and irony of it
all--even our grandest efforts.

"Yes, so it seems to some eyes, and so it is at least to those who see
it so. After all, what is it? A cry and a struggle and a sigh, a flash
of light and a streak of dawn and darkness, and then we stand by the
grave and weep for the dead that the living may see our tears. Ah, the
helplessness and hopelessness of it all; the desolation and despondency,
the thoughts that paralyze the mind and stifle the soul; all things out
of joint, out of proportion, and Fate cries out to you in the slang
phrase 'you don't fit!' Ah, the humor of the entire procession and the
deep tragic background behind it. Seek and you will find, and when you
find you shall not want it. Wealth makes us weary of it. Fame brings her
wreath and finds her poet dead. Faith consoles, but we have the
consciousness all along that we are sick and are taking medicine. 'Love
grows hate for love's sake and life takes death for guide.' Love? Have
ever two souls come near each other? Those whom we love most understand
us least. Happiness? The art of finding happiness is one of the lost
arts. No one is ever consciously happy. Knowledge is almost positive
proof that we cannot know. With it we are more puzzled than we were
without it. The last word of science is 'wait.' What do we know? Moses
went up to heaven, but God refused to be interviewed. The people, like
the modern editor, insisted upon a story and so we have the Bible. But
science and the higher criticism has interrupted our reading and spoiled
the pleasure of it. What do we know? Even Professor Daniel De Leon does
not know everything. Man asks questions, investigates, '_und ein Narr
wartet auf Antwort_.' Life contains more emptiness than anything else.
Life is a long wait for that which does not come. Is life worth living?
'Tis not worthwhile asking the question."

"If that is so, or seems so," I hazarded the question, "then why be
here?"

"Why, to see it all, to enjoy the tragedy," Keidansky answered with
swift enthusiasm. "I would not advise my best friend to commit suicide.
Such an exciting farce. What would life be, what would art be without
the tragic elements in it? It's great! But I began to tell you why it is
sometimes grossly immoral to live up to your highest principles, when my
train of thought was wrecked. Some other time. Come, let's go into the
other room and I'll introduce you to the players and to Comrade
Cahan--if he is still alive."



XVI

The Immorality of Principles


"Yes, I have promised to tell you why it is sometimes grossly immoral to
live up to your highest principles. It was a rash promise, yet I shall
try to make it good. And though it was several weeks ago, I am more than
ever inclined to think the same way."

Thus spake Keidansky when I reproachfully reminded him of a former
utterance.

"There are the missionaries," he said, "who go forth among peaceful,
law-avoiding savages to force upon them a religion that has outlived its
usefulness, a religion that has not prevented them from doing such an
immoral, impolite thing. They go forth to promulgate the truth of which
they are not sure. They invidiously invade the premises of goodly
primitive people, and ruthlessly trample upon their traditions, beliefs,
superstitions and feelings. We shut people out of our country, and we
send missionaries to offer them free admission or standing-room in our
heaven. Heedless that their bodies are starving, we come and ask to let
us save their souls. We forget that they have a right to their religion,
to their way of non-thinking, to take the medicine they like; that their
method of salvation is best for them,


     'That human hopes and human creeds
     Have their roots in human needs.'


We forget that they have just as much a right to wear their mental
corsets as we have to wear ours, or, if you wish, that their beliefs are
as true to them as ours are to us. We forget that they speak to God in
their own language. We go forth among them and mock at all that is holy
and dear to their hearts.

"Of course, missionaries, like all agitators, are devoted people, living
up to their very highest principles, and we all mean well; but this sort
of business, this invasion and utter disregard for others, is to me
grossly immoral. And to court and minister to the needs of cannibals and
brigands is too much altruism on our part, and that excessive phase of
it is wicked and hurtful."

"But," I protested, "is not the legitimate advocacy of ideas
justifiable?"

"Yes," said Keidansky, "the legitimate advocacy of ideas. There are
those who on one day of the week would turn our cities into cemeteries,
who would stifle our spirits and starve our souls, who on that day deny
us music and mirth and song--think it a sin to smile, wicked to be
happy, and a crime to make merry. If they could reach the sun, they
would stop it from working overtime and shining on the Lord's day; yet
if the sun should ever reach them, their piety would not cast such a
pall over the community. Yes, I know; but listen. Have patience.
Patience is a Christian virtue, which Christians have forced upon Jewish
money-lenders. I know that there are many people to-day who have quite
a high opinion of the Almighty, believing that He loves light and
sunshine, laughter and joy, and glories in the happiness of every living
thing, down to the humblest worm. But I am speaking of the others--those
who deny the pleasure of everything except self-denial; for whom the
only laws of life are the blue laws.

"Just now our city is being held up by the police, and at the point of a
club told to be good and pious and religious. We are told not to
breathe, or sigh, or sneeze, or smile, or show any signs of life on
Sunday. Orders to stop the circulation of our blood on that day have not
yet been issued, but everything comes to those who wait--every evil
comes to those who have over-zealous pietists among them. To heaven, or
be damned. It is a case of your adherence, or your life. You must be
killed, or cured. Now in this disregard of disbelievers, the narrowness
of vision and hurtful overzeal, I discern something immoral.

"Yet it is a matter of principle to spread whatever gospel one has been
captured by. Personally, I have never been so tortured by any as by
those people who wished to save me, and out of justice to them, I must
say that they tortured me according to their highest principles. It must
be admitted that there is an amount of good and pleasure for the
agitator, involved in agitation, yet his work cannot, generally, be
called moral on the ground that it conduces to happiness, because he is
only one, and those whom he is molesting to save are many.

"And so many of those who sacrifice and abnegate and deny themselves,
who neglect nature, ignore the laws of their being, emaciate their
bodies and starve their souls, is it not immoral of them to weaken their
constitutions, minds and spirits, and diminish their power for positive
good in the world? In the end, are not many of them miserably misled by
their highest principles?

"If he loseth the world, what shall it profit a man that he gaineth his
soul? Of what earthly use is a soul, without a wicked world to use it
in? To what good is a soul without all the opportunities of losing it?

"Alone in the mountains, far from the madding crowd, it is easy to be
sane and soulful and saintly; but to me, every effort to separate the
soul from the world is immoral, though it is in accord with some lofty
principles. The soul outside of the world is a tramp who shirks work. To
remain in the world, to do, to work, to wage war against weakness, to
live strongly and have no fear--that is the soul doing its duty, and
sowing happiness for all.

"And speaking of happiness for others, in the first place, it is not
right to force it upon others against their consent, and in the second
place, it is wrong to do it at the expense of your own welfare. Do all
that you can for yourself first, or you are not justified in trying to
manage other lives on a better basis. I believe in perfection, but I
believe that as much of it as is possible should begin with the
perfectionists. I believe that nothing is worth doing, unless there is a
sound reason for it. I believe in egoism. Altruism may have done much
good, but I pity the Altruists, who have enervated, weakened and
impoverished themselves by their mostly futile attempts to help others.

"Largely, altruism is an attempt to do for others what you cannot do for
yourself.

"There are principles which have led people to lose all that was good in
them. The roads to unattainable ideals and impossible perfections are
strewn with countless corpses of lost victims. People lose their health,
peace, welfare and all, trying to do for others what, in so many cases,
cannot be done at all. All this is wrong. It is wrong to add to the
store of the world's misery, though you are attempting to alleviate it.
No, no one should work for philanthropy unless he gets a good salary for
it. As to asceticism, it has never been a profitable business. Contrary
to other religions, Judaism rather stood for the joy of life than the
arrest of it.

"I have seen much of the problem of immoral principles among our
radicals of the Ghetto, many of whom have ruined and wrecked their lives
because of the ideas they advocated. If the dream of social justice
would be realized to-morrow, many of them would not have the strength to
enjoy it. Others are so weak that they would not be able to stand the
shock. There were those who had others dependent upon them, and who
neglected everything and everybody, particularly themselves, for the
sake of 'the cause,' and who finally became utterly useless. They added
to the poverty of the East Side in their efforts to abolish it, while if
they had taken good care of themselves they would, in the long run, have
done vastly more for their ideals. Among my plots for stories that I
have never written, is the case of a man who became a tramp, because he
was too anxious to abolish the system that produces tramps. One of the
finest poets of the East Side is now a mental and physical wreck,
because he lived up to his highest principles--and neglected himself.

"Enthusiasts very often lose the sense of justice, become oblivious to
everything--except the invisible. I know too well the nobility of the
motives; I know that there are more of them on the East Side than any
other place in America; I know, also, that a cause requires such
sacrifices, yet, what are the results? Very often, failure. It has been
observed that a man, who in the midst of a savage or barbarous
community, in defiance of current social or religious customs, should
attempt to live the ideal life of a perfect civilization, would
doubtless be quickly eliminated from such a society by violent and
tragical means, and thus effectively be stopped from influencing those
around him to better ways of living. A great deal of our enforced
civilization of savage races has been fatal in its effects upon the
health and happiness of the vast majority, while it has failed to
elevate the average morals of the survivors. Authorities say that this
is likely to be the result, whenever conventional education is forced
upon a people in advance of their functional development. The Hawaiian
Islanders are pointed out as an impressive example, and the
missionaries, as well as the radicals of the Ghetto, trying to convert
their orthodox brethren, ought to remember these things.

"The way out of it? Some one says: 'That course of conduct must be
adopted which will promote the greatest possible development of
life-giving energies, both in the individuals immediately affected, and
in society at large, including the life of posterity.' That's science,
if I have the quotation right. Principles should be founded on fact, and
be conducive to the largest happiness, including even the happiness of
the one who holds the principles. In size, they should be more than 8 by
12 inches. They should be a yard wide--wide enough and true enough for
all. Yet they should be such principles as to allow others to hold other
principles. The right principles, in accord with the best laws of life,
and not theology, will come up to all requirements, and they will be
moral.

"Yes, individualism by all means," he added; "be yourself, but don't be
a savage."



XVII

The Exile of the Earnest


I met Keidansky at the performance of a Yiddish play, and our talk
turned to matters dramatic.

"I notice by the papers," I remarked, "that Sarah Bernhardt has just
produced a play written for her by F. Marion Crawford, the American
novelist. So we are going to supply the theatres of other countries with
plays. Are you interested?"

"Very much," said Keidansky; "this is not the only case of an American
writing for the foreign stage, and it suggests to me a fine possibility.
About Crawford I know but little; but he is one of our popular men. He
has, according to his own confession, written to please; he has never
offended any living beings by putting them into his works; he has never
attempted to picture life, uninteresting as it is, and he is, on the
whole, not one of those that we should want to send away to write plays
for the people of other lands. And I am rather glad his 'Francesca da
Rimini' has failed in London.

"But if there are any among us who are terribly in earnest, with
tremendous intentions to elevate the stage, to write plays that will
instruct, stimulate, uplift, to take all the struggles of humanity and
put them into dramas--why let them learn some one of the foreign
languages and go abroad and write plays for the serious people of
Europe. Yes, if they persist in these things, and want to make us think,
and all that sort of thing, which is short of pleasure, if they cannot
amuse us with something funny or entertain us with something nice and
romantic, why let them go abroad. It's the only way we can get rid of
them, and we shall not mourn the loss of those who would have us do
nothing else but mourn.

"We Americans do not want any plays that require intellect, for we need
all that we have in our business enterprises; we do not want to think in
the theatre, because it takes all our thoughts to advertise and sell our
goods, nor do we want our emotions stirred, for that is a nervous
strain, clouds the mind, and makes people unfit for speculation,
scheming or anything on the next day. Then, these plays that arrest the
brain and touch our very soul, they make us sentimental, soft-hearted,
kind-natured, and draw us out on long conversations with our wives,
children and friends. Meanwhile the wheels of trade are turning, and in
the race for success we are left behind.

"We are a healthy people, and we don't want any morbid, lurid, ghastly
productions over here, and in a large sense all very serious works are
morbid, lugubrious and gloomy. At bottom of them there is always a
problem, an evil, a crying wrong, a morbid state of something. A happy
home is not dramatic; people at peace with themselves and the world are
not good subjects for tragedy. According to the conception of these
earnest writers there is no plot for a play without a peck of trouble.
We don't want any such dramatic dishes served. We don't want people to
play upon our feelings, and yet pay them for it. Occasionally, we are
willing to have something a little bit sad, but we want it to end
happily. But the earnest ones tell us that in real life few sad stories
end happily, that their pictures are true to life. Hang it, we ourselves
know they are true to life. There's plenty of trouble at home,--that's
why we go to the theatre--to forget it. Gorky pictures a man--fat and
forty, successful and comfortable as a government official--a man, who
after reading 'a book of one of these modern much-praised writers,'
comes to the conclusion that he is 'an insignificant nonentity, a
superfluous being, of no use to any one.'

"This is just what one of the modern plays does for you. See, it seems
to say, see, you crown of creation, what a crawling creature you are.
Your past is what it ought not to have been. Your present is what it
ought not to be. 'The future is but the past again, entered through
another gate.' Yesterday you were a fool--to-morrow you will be a still
greater one. Your best resolutions shall become bitter regrets. You are
weak, and you make laws and build governments and create creeds, and
they make you weaker yet. All the adornments of your civilization are
relics of barbarism. Evolution is too slow for anything, and you cannot
get ahead of yourself. You have talked all your life and not uttered an
original thought. There have been a few original beings, but most of
you are poor imitations--you must follow others. You must have a master,
either in heaven, or on earth; you are a slave of society. You strike
for freedom and anti-conventionality only when it becomes a fad. You
don't understand. Your children cannot teach you anything. You are too
old to learn. When you were young you had only your parents to instruct
you. Your home rests upon false assumptions. It is a field of battle--or
there are no strong individuals in it and all is peace. The theory of
heredity is not true--your children are stupid; your wife is a doll,
which you have chosen for her pretty cheeks, and, though she is fading,
claims the rights of a free-born human being, and does not
understand--but what's the use? Of what earthly good can such plays be?
Why should we in this free, independent and prosperous country listen to
such things? Besides, family quarrels, filial relations, disagreements
between relatives are not fit materials for the dramatist. It is none of
his business to meddle in such private matters. If there is trouble in
the home, if a man and a woman find that one and one is two, if the
interests of certain persons, or classes, are against those of others,
if people find their religion too small for them and their laws not big
enough, why there are courts that they can go to, and legislatures and
clergymen and lawyers and Christian Scientists and so many other sources
of help and salvation. For a writer it is extremely bad taste to deal
with such matters. His mission is to amuse us, and he has no right to
abdicate the sovereignty of his exalted office.

"At least that is what we Americans--the majority of our people--think,
and if there are writers among us so abnormally serious as to see things
otherwise, there is but one thing to do with them--we should send them
away to other countries where people like that kind of dreary drama.

"Let them, like Marion Crawford, write for the French stage. The French
are not even shocked when they see a real resemblance between life and
the drama. In fact they put everything into their plays, all their
faults, and I wonder how they can look at these plays. So many things
happen in France, and it is all in their books and plays, besides a lot
of things that never happen. You cannot in their country escape life and
all its troubles by going to the theatre or reading one of their novels.
All life's tribulations, turmoil and travail are in them. Not that the
people are over-earnest, but that they like something strong, love to be
stirred and moved, and are recklessly unafraid of the vertigoes of
thought. They have great artists and wonderfully fine writers, but their
dramatic works are terribly upsetting. A good performance of 'Camille'
breaks a person up for several days. They are a dangerous lot, all the
French writers.

"No, we over here do not want such productions. There are plenty of
pretty incidents and fables out of our romantic history that we can use
on our stage.

Every veteran of our wars tells enough of his own heroic deeds to make
a dozen of plays. Then there are so many historical novels, guaranteed
to have nothing to do with life, that have not as yet been dramatized.
Such plays would help us to understand our grand history.

"But there is lots of room in Europe for our would-be realists, and our
government would do well by making an appropriation for their
instruction in foreign languages and their deportation to the lands of
burdensome intentions, revolutionary movements and problem plays. This
would mean peace in our own country.

"There are the Germans, who love Schopenhauer and beer and usually drink
the two together. They feel intensely, revel in realism and have the
keenest enjoyment of tragedy. Nothing is too sad, sombre, or too
stirring for their stage. All the unanswered questions that have vainly
troubled the ages are raised in their dramatic and literary works. What
an uncomfortable prospect that is! They always have men who writes plays
that will never die. They have no shame, these Germans. They feel
strongly and openly show it. Altogether they have a passion for the
thoughtful, and give the modern playwright with tendencies a splendid
opportunity. But what is to be said of a country that can produce such
play as Hauptmann's 'Die Weber'--a country that can send fifty Socialist
members to the Reichstag? Yes, we can safely send them to Germany, or
else to Russia. It would be hard for an American to learn that
language, but Russia is the land where they say the most daring, the
boldest things in the most candid manner, or without any manner at all.
I don't know why it is unless it is because free speech is forbidden in
that country. There the play, or the novel, palpitates with life and
vibrates with heart-throbs. All the evil and oppression and ruin of the
country cries out through its literature and drama, and the people
worship such art. Life itself is seen on the Russian stage. This is
where we should send our earnest writers. True, there is a censorship in
Russia, but the radical utterances of an American author will easily
pass the Russian censor.

"There is Norway, where a man like Ibsen, who has made that country the
scene of action of all the tragedies of the world, is allowed at large
after an exile of many years. Ibsen has held up the Land of the Midnight
Sun as a dominion of darkness, yet they like him and are also proud of
him in his country. Belgium is another good market for the serious and
revolutionary drama. In Spain, Echegaray is doing nearly what Ibsen is
doing in Norway, and he has a number of literary companions with similar
sombre intentions. Even in England they are beginning to write such
plays, and an American can easily learn the English language. It's a
good thing that Henry James prefers to live in England, only we ought to
put a tariff on his psychological stories. We need not fear. Any and all
these countries will serve us as places of exile for our earnest
authors.

"But hold on, I've nearly forgotten. Perhaps the expenses of sending
these people to Europe can be saved. Let them learn to write in Yiddish,
for in the Jewish theatres of the New York Ghetto all sorts of serious,
sombre, life-like, problematic and powerful plays are produced."



XVIII

Why Social Reformers Should Be Abolished


"It's quite a problem," said Keidansky, suddenly, after a pensive pause,
as he watched the glimmering lights of the Cambridge bridge across the
gloomy Charles.

"What is?" I asked.

"How to abolish the social reformers," he answered in a tone of
determination.

It was nearly two o'clock in the morning when we left the little café
where we spent part of the evening, and he said it was too early to go
home, which in any case was the last resort. It was so roasting hot up
in his attic, that no matter what time he climbed up there, he would be
"well done" by the time he rose in the morning. But the place he told me
of had this advantage: it was delightfully cool in the winter. Keidansky
was physically exhausted and mentally lazy, and would say but little at
first. He had spent the day in preparing an article for one of the
Jewish papers, and during the evening gave two lessons in English,
visiting his pupils at their homes; for it was thus, he once informed
me, that he learned what English he knew--by teaching it to others.
Incidentally these lessons he gave and his journalistic efforts helped
to pay for the necessities of life, such as rent, laundry, lunches,
symphony concerts ("on the rush"), admissions to picture exhibitions,
books, gallery tickets to the best plays that came to town, etc. He had
worked very hard that day, he said, which was a direct violation of his
principle. He did what he could to keep his ideas out of his article,
and he hoped it would be published. He felt tired, did not want to go
home, and proposed that we walk over to the Charlesbank Park where, on a
night like this, we could at least in imagination conjure up a breeze.

"Your whim is law," I said, and we set off for the park. I had been
speaking of a Yiddish melodrama which had been produced in Boston a few
days before. Keidansky had not seen the play, but he intended to write a
review of it for one of the New York papers. He knew all about it and
the species to which it belonged. When capital punishment was abolished,
sitting through one of these plays would be an all-sufficient penalty
for murder, he said. Then this subject gave out and there was a pause,
after which Keidansky made the startling remark concerning social
reformers.

"Abolish them? Do you really mean it?" I asked.

"Yes, though I do say it," he replied.

"What for?" I, being puzzled, queried again, and he answered:

"For the welfare of society, and perhaps also the sure approach of the
millennium." He continued: "The social reformers, as a rule, are a most
unsocial job lot of people. As I have known them, their business has
been to frighten, to scowl, to scare, and to make a mountain of evil out
of a mole-hill that did not exist. They are often the most blinded
zealots, the narrowest-minded, one-sided partisans, with tremendous,
almost Dante-like propensities to conjure up hair-raising horribles, but
with the genius and the poetry of a Dante left out. Their method is to
cut life up piecemeal, pepper it good and heavy, and send you to bed
with a few bitter morsels. After a night of the most excruciating
nightmares, you wake up with a nauseous taste in your mouth, and a
pronounced case of reformania. It is not so much what they say, as how
they emphasize it; the very dictionary groans beneath the weight of
their abuse of adjectives, and after a time they convince you that you
don't know your own address, that you have not, as you imagined, been
living on the planet earth, but in the most devilish, hellish purgatory.

"In order to convert this earth into a heaven, they must needs make it
appear to be the blackest hell. In order to abolish evil, they must
prove that nothing else exists. To convince you of the infinite
possibilities in the development of men, they must prove to you that
they have ever been divided between parasitic capitalists and starving
slaves. Evolution, as they concoct it for you, has been a process of
going from bad to worse, from a mild form of slavery to a more abject
one.

"You see, they are in for effect, and with the aid of the most bombastic
language and turgid phraseology they are bound to make it, no matter how
many people they dishearten, discourage and dismay. To damn humanity,
they think, is but a trifle when their supreme end is to save the world.
Hope is not in heaven, earth sees no gentler star; earth is hell and
hell bows down before the social reformer. The reformer that I mean is a
man ever wandering about with a pail of black paint in one hand, a brush
in the other, and with an expression of heartrending sorrow in his face
because he cannot find a ladder high enough to enable him to put a few
coats of his paint on the skies. The world must be saved at any cost,
say these reformers, and if the world is the cost, why it is dead cheap
at that, when they can become saviors of society and possibly sainted
martyrs. And so they proceed to exaggerate the evils that exist in the
most brazen-faced manner and to magnify the evils they imagine to the
utmost extent. They generously enlarge every iniquity that is and fully
describe those that have never been; they complicate every simple
problem in order to puzzle mankind and to be misunderstood and to appear
great. The world has become so civilized, the reformers reason, or
rather think, that it is hard to find its monstrous wrongs and social
reform are being forgotten, and so out with our telescopes, magnifying
glasses and alarm clocks. The capitalists must be dethroned, the
down-trodden wage-slave must be enthroned, and then our saviors riot and
revel in their never-ending disquisitions. Yes, when there are many
reformers in the world, the world is in sore need of reform.

"These people are pitifully short-sighted and can barely see one side
of life at a time; they dissect life and remove it from reality. Their
solutions are so fine that they have nothing to do with the real
problems. They detach humanity from the world. They abolish the concrete
(for convenience) and get lost in their abstractions like the detective
who disguised himself so much that he could not discover his own
identity. They conceive more evil than exists because they rarely know
the difference between right and wrong. They are visionaries without
breadth of visions; theorists, not knowing the uselessness of all
theories; people who would save the world because they do not know it;
builders without a foundation; saviors without the saving graces of
truth and beauty. They embitter humanity, they darken the world,
painting it blacker than it ever was in the barbaric past and--they make
me weary, the more so because they constantly remind me how foolish I
once was myself.

"I tell you, the world is better to-day than it ever was before, and it
would become still better if we could abolish these disparaging,
discouraging, slanderous social reformers. The true reformers are those
who make us see how good and great the old world is. As you said the
other day, the greatest explorers were those who discovered heaven on
earth. And after we have abolished the reformers we could gradually also
abolish the other evils which afflict our civilization and mar
existence. They would no longer impede our progress and we could little
by little wipe out the wrongs that oppress us and institute more just
conditions for all members of society. These things could be done
gradually, reasonably, with good cheer, and with the best results. For
another trouble with the vaudeville social reformers that I did not
mention is their overweening, overwhelming conceit, which makes them so
ludicrously unreasonable and prevents them from seeing that the world is
just a trifle bigger than one of their numbers."

It was nearing dawn, and I asked him how he was going to do away with
the reformers.

"Well, there's the rub," he said. "I do not know exactly, but I've been
thinking that perhaps the only and best way of abolishing the social
reformers would be by finding the true solution of the social problem
and abolishing all the wrongs and iniquities of our civilization. Let us
destroy, annihilate the evils of unjust laws, governments and
monopolies, and institute a just system of society and the social
reformers will disappear.

"Let us have a society wherein all will share equally in all the joys
and sorrows of life, wherein none shall be starved and none shall be
pampered to death, wherein none shall have too much of the goods of the
world and all shall have enough, wherein no hungry babes will wallow in
the gutters to become candidates for the prisons and insane asylums, and
no children shall be ruined by riches; a world wherein there will be no
temperance movements to drive men to drink, no trust to destroy men's
souls, and no churches to harbor infidels; a world without the constant
clouds of harrowing, sad thoughts, without the rains of tears, and with
more and more of sunshine. Let us do that and we will abolish the
obnoxious reformers. Let us abolish the monstrous crime of poverty,
which has not the shadow of a reason for existence in a world that is
overwhelmed with wealth, and the occupation of the reformers will be
gone, and they will vanish. Really, we ought to be willing and ready to
do anything for their abolition."



XIX

Buying a Book in Salem Street


"I am going to buy a book on Salem street," said my friend, when we
suddenly encountered on Tremont Row. "Do you wish to come along?"

I was bent on any adventure, and so we started for the quarter, down
through Hanover street. It was but a short distance, and before we had
done much chatting in the way of exchanging ideas, we were at the head
of the street, facing the pawnshop of No. 1, with the welcome legend of
"Money to Loan."

We passed safely the bedecked and bedraggled second-hand clothing
stores, though the pullers-in were out in full force. As my companion
explained, it is only the seeming strangers who are approached and asked
to buy, or sell, but familiar figures and persons in their company are
never molested. One of these attendants, a dark, sad-eyed, kind-faced
young man, was leaning against the door-post of a store and intently
reading a Jewish magazine. We were across the street and we stopped to
look. This fellow, who was engaged in the most sordid business, was
reading the "Zukunft," the magazine of dreams, ideals and Utopias,
published by the New York radicals. An elderly, bearded and stout man
came down the street. Without looking up from his booklet the youth
mechanically asked: "Any clothing to-day?"

"No," the man shouted, "no clothing to-day, and you'll never sell
anything if this is the way you'll attend to your business." It was the
proprietor of the store. For a moment the puller-in seemed dazed. Then
he shoved his "Zukunft" into his coat pocket. He began to cast his eyes
about for customers. He looked a model of sorrow. I was told that it was
his idealism, his striving for the impossible, beautiful, that reduced
him to the ugly position he was in. We moved on. There were other men
reading, if only in snatches, but they apparently owned their stores and
had their assistants. One of the pullers pointed out to me is one of the
most enthusiastic Zionists in this city. Children were playing on
sidewalks and doorsteps, sedately but happily. A school-teacher from one
of the neighboring institutions passed through the street. Several
little girls recognized and flocked about her. One took the teacher's
umbrella, the other asked for the privilege of carrying the young lady's
Boston bag. They took hold of her arms and went along dancing and
smiling as she talked to them. Above the rumbling of wagons were heard
the pleasing notes of a piano and the singing of a sweet-voiced daughter
of the tenements.

Farther up the street was more crowded. It was Thursday afternoon. The
stores were all activity and bustle, and the pedlers with their wagons
and pushcarts were crying their foods and wares for "the Holy Sabbath"
in quaint and singing Yiddish phrases. I was reminded by my friend that
Abraham Goldfoden, the father of the Jewish stage, in one of his
operettas uses a swarming, eve-of-Sabbath market-scene like this very
effectively, and makes his hucksters sing beautifully of the things they
have to sell. Said my guide: "Of course, in the operetta of 'The Witch'
the pedlers are not so ragged and besmeared, and you cannot hear the
smell of the meat and the fish, but neither can you buy and eat these
things. After all, if art is beautiful, real life is quite useful.

"To our people," said Keidansky, casting his eyes about, "everything
here is a matter of course, and there is nothing unusual about it all.
The strangest things are the strangers, who come to stare, study and
wonder. In fact, the self-concentration of the Jew, probably the secret
of his survival, makes this the only place in the world, the temporary
Palestine, the centre of the universe. There are other places in this
city, but they are only the outskirts, the suburbs of the Ghetto. There
are other peoples and religions, but we are the people and ours is the
faith. The flattery that children receive from their parents afterwards
helps them to bear the brunt of the battle. The consciousness of his
being chosen helped Israel to find his way through the dark labyrinth of
the centuries. Everything here is as it should be, only a little more on
the exclusive and pious European plan. This is more of the old fashioned
view, but it is still extant, inasmuch as the Ghetto remains."

Now we were near Bersowsky's book-store which was on the other side of
the street and we stopped, facing it. A street-organ was playing in
front of the strange emporium and a band of children were dancing gayly
to its music. We could see the books and periodicals, phylacteries and
newspapers, holy fringe-garments and sheets of Jewish music in the
windows from the other side of the street. And as we came nearer we
could see the very aged woman, bewigged and kerchiefed, wan, wrinkled
and wry--the most familiar figure in the Ghetto--we could see her
sitting on her high stool, drinking a glass of tea and selling
newspapers. There were several simple prints and chromos in the window,
reproductions from pictures of Jewish life. Parents blessing their
children on the Day of Atonement, the Feast of Passover, high priests
lighting the candles in the temple--these were their subjects. In the
windows were also brass candlesticks, such as are being lighted and
blessed on the eve of each Sabbath. We stood outside and mused.

"This," Keidansky explained, "is the leading Jewish book-store in
Boston, and it is in a sense also the spiritual centre of this Ghetto.
If any one were to ask me what is to-day the moral condition of the
Jews, their spiritual state, what are their intellectual status and
religious aspirations, if any one should ask me--I would take them into
this store and let them see what it contains. Religion, history,
literature--it is all in here--at least in all its physical
manifestations. Pentateuchs, Bibles, prayer-books, all books of
religious instruction, books of piety and penance, volumes of the
Talmud and of Mishna, phylacteries and holy scrolls, covers for the
scrolls and curtains for the Holy Ark, ram's horns to sound on New
Year's, knives wherewith to kill cattle according to a merciful ritual,
candle-sticks and show-threads which the Jews were commanded to wear at
the bottom of their garments (and some of them now wear under their
garments)--in a word, all that stands to preserve the old faith is here.
All the symbolism of our old faith is here incarnated. And yet side by
side with these are the things which tend towards the transformation or
dissolution of the ancient religion--the publications of the radicals,
the destroying utterances of the revolutionists. Here come the orthodox
for prayer-books and the anti-religious for free-thought pamphlets. Here
you find the organs of the patriots and Zionists, who wish to preserve
and regenerate the Jewish people, and also the organs of the Socialists
and Anarchists who are fighting against all national ideas and for an
assimilated humanity. Come in and I'll show you. There is the 'Zukunft'
(Future), the best literary and scientific monthly we ever had, which is
published by the Socialists. It was formerly edited by Abe Cahan, now
Dr. Caspe has charge of it. And look! 'Die Freie Arbeiter Stimme,' the
Anarchist weekly, ably edited by S. Yanofsky, one of the cleverest
Yiddish writers.

"And," my friend whispered, "this old lady, who stands for all that is
pious and ancient, handing out the 'Freie Arbeiter Stimme' and the
Socialist 'Vorwärts,' is to me as strongly dramatic and as profoundly
symbolic a picture as any thing in life and literature. Mr. Bersowsky,
who started this store, now sells books, it is hoped, in a better world.
Look at this young old woman--his widow--and see if hearts ever break
around here. The aged lady is his mother, and she would not be in any
other place in the world, except where her husband, and afterwards her
son spent their last days. So she stays here all the time the store is
open, and sells papers and books in spite of protests.

"The Jew is so practical that he always looks ahead; he is chronically
optimistic, and his imagination creates everything that the world denies
him. Dreamer he has been ever since the prophets, and even before their
time. It must have been superb idealism and beautiful faith which
enabled him to loan money to his neighbors during the Middle Ages. It
still requires fine imagination to do it to-day.

"Between the sordid and the sublime stands the Jew, who is either one or
the other, or both, as circumstances shape his destiny. You can see this
in all his literature, from the stories of Motke Chabad to the plays of
Jacob Gordin.

"Is it not strange how quickly we adapt ourselves, and how soon we come
up to date and ahead of date? But yesterday we had no literature except
our religious guides, our only beacon lights in the old-world Ghettos;
and now we have splendid modern works, both in Hebrew and Yiddish, all
breathing the modern spirit. Many standard works from all European
tongues have been translated for us; but we have a number of great
masters of our own. It is such a short time ago that we had no fiction
to speak of us (except the sermons of our preachers); and now there is
Abromowitz and Peretz, Spector and Rubenowitz, and so many others. There
is a whole group of modern poets, who have also grown up in no time. And
the struggle between the old and the new, which this literature
represents, the striving for the modern, and the longing for the
ancient--that is what makes it so painful and pleasant--so stirring, and
therefore such good art. All grades of feeling and believing, thinking
and non-thinking, are in the books and periodicals that you find in this
store. And the men and women who come here, living in the same Ghetto,
are often millions of miles apart in their ideas."

My guide asked for his book, a Hebrew story, by L. M. Lillenblum. The
elderly man, who is a relative of the family and a partner in the
business, knew all about it, found it after a long search, and made my
friend happy. The story, I was told, was written about twenty years ago
by a native of Keidan. At that time there was a general literary
awakening, and many talented men wrote profane and useful books in the
holy language, and shocked the orthodox Jews of Russia. In Keidan, they
wanted to excommunicate the author of "The Follies of My Youth"; but
the rabbi of Kovno telegraphed, saying that the infidel was a great man,
and should be left alone--with his book. An old man came in, and after
much bargaining, bought a silk praying-shawl. Several persons came in
for papers. A young man bought the "Zukunft" and "The Merchant of
Venice" translated in blank verse, by Joseph Bovshover.

He wore glasses, long hair, carried an umbrella and a green bag; in
fact, one might have met him in a vegetarian restaurant. He was pointed
out to me as a noted radical, a dreamer, who writes for the "Vorwärts,"
works as a tailor in a sweat-shop, and is said to be writing a book. A
comely young maiden, with a madonna-like face, came near the store. She
had a few mayflowers in her hand--and gave them to a ragged little child
standing there. She came in and bought a paper. She did not read
Yiddish; but it was for her father. She was a college student, I was
told, of advanced ideas, but deeply in love with the people of the
Ghetto and their beliefs--was planning to devote her life to settlements
and social reform work--one of the many dreamers who came into this
store.

"Once," said my guide, "I told her that I would put her into a book.
'Thank you,' she answered. 'I don't want to sink into oblivion so soon.'
But she is an idyl of the Ghetto just the same. Look; here are the poems
of David Edelstaat. He sleeps now in a lonely grave in the Jewish
cemetery at Denver, Colorado, by the side of the fence, for he was a
delinquent in Israel. He went there by way of the corroding sweat-shop
and a damp cellar in New York, where he edited a little communist
weekly. Many of our idealists go to Denver this way. It is the only time
they travel and take a vacation. The hospitals there are crowded. But
Edelstaat's poems, they are a sacred treasure among the Jewish working
people."



XX

The Purpose of Immoral Plays


The smoke was so thick and the din so heavy, that I did not see him when
I came in and barely heard his shouted greeting. Such was the crowded
condition of the regular resort on Saturday night; yet I found Keidansky
tucked up in a corner of the café, "oblivious to the obvious," around
him, with a pile of newspapers in his hands. "The group" had not as yet
assembled, so my friend was reading.

"This has been a great week," he said with gladsome emphasis, after we
had exchanged courtesies. I at once suspected what he meant.

"A great week," I said, "because you have been able to see humanity
piteously dissected, human beings mercilessly analyzed, souls stript of
their raiment, wounded and bleeding, our fellow-men on exhibition,
crippled by custom and walking on the crutches of convention, our best
arrangements of life held up to ridicule and scorn. A great week," I
said, "because you have fed on tragedy like a fiend?"

"Yes, there is something sad about tragedy," answered Keidansky,
ignoring my bitterness, "but the man who sees things clearly, who looks
a long distance behind the scenes, the man who sees the worst and does
not die, but lives to cast his observations into a perfect work, and to
lift you up to the mountain-top with him, is not this man great and
gladdening? Is there not cause for exultation in a really big tragedy?
And this is saying but little about the æsthetic pleasure of a story
told in heart-breaking and soul-stirring manner," he added. "Some one
must do this work, and it makes one feel real good when the right man
comes along.

"The saddest stories are yet to be told, before there can be much more
happiness in the world. We can never reach the heights until we realize
the depths. As for myself, I give all the world to the man who can make
it better than it is. And such works are making the longed-for
improvement, by performing the miracle of making men and women think,
doing this, not by any pedantic preachments, but by the power of
suggestiveness and the large vision of the newer and truer art. Art with
a purpose? But all art has this purpose. And the less the purpose is
consciously inculcated into art, the better is that purpose carried out.
They call them problem plays, but was there ever a great play without
some sort of problem in it? Without some burning question of life, and
love, and death? What's that? Immoral? Was there ever a masterly and
mastering work that was not immoral, according to the popular judgments?
Was there ever a work with a big purpose that conformed to the critics
and to current lack of opinions? Could there be much of a purpose to
anything that did not shock the world's conspiracy of cowardice they
call morality? _Gott ist mit dir!_ You must go abroad and take some
cure. You have been reading the American dramatic critics. It was a
great week, I say, with Ibsen and Björnson, Sudermann and Pinero, and
two wonderful artists to interpret them, but the pleasure was very much
spoiled for me by some of these critics. Ah, these poor critics. Here
are the papers, and I can still hear them choking and croaking and
cackling, and my heart goes out to them and turns sick. What a wonderful
lot of fellows they are. What endless platitudes and empty phrases--full
of nonsense--they have delivered themselves of this week, yet I don't
think they are any the wiser for it. I know one of the fraternity (there
is sufficient disagreement between themselves to be called a fraternity)
who is a perfect genius. With one stroke of his mighty pen he once
annihilated Ibsen, Echegaray, Astrowsky, Paul Hervieue and Edward
Martyn. It was all 'morbid trash,' he said of a series of their plays,
and it is strange that these men are still heard of occasionally. That
was after the John Blair experiment, and I walked into this critic's
office and made a few extemporaneous remarks. He said I ought to have
more respect for a man who can get as much advertising for his paper as
he can. Of course, this was indisputable. It would take so little
courage to do it, yet they dare not think their own thoughts, the dear,
dear critics. No, there is not any use in trying to reason with them,
but I sometimes would like to get them all together in one room and
give them all a sound horsewhipping.

"One of the critics, who writes in silk gloves, swears in the most
perfect, correct English, and compares every play he sees to something
of Shakespeare, objects to 'The Second Mrs. Tanqueray' as an immoral
play. The dissection of this woman's heart and mind, he protests, is not
the proper business of the dramatist, nor is the inspection of his
dissecting table after the job has been done a proper amusement for
theatrical spectators. 'A process of repentance and purification' and
that sort of thing, on the part of this unfortunate, must be indicated,
if art is to approach this kind of life. The entire scheme of ethics is
bad. Yet the critic admits that the performance was terrible and
touching, and that Mrs. Campbell--Heaven bless her for coming to see
us--won a remarkable and complete victory in the part; altogether he
praises her very generously.

"Now, what I say is this. If we can be moved and stirred by an immoral
play, there is either something the matter with our morality, or there
is something radically wrong with our hearts. I must recall to you the
lines of Stephen Crane. 'Behold the grave of a wicked man, and near is a
stern spirit. There came a drooping maid with violets, but the spirit
grasped her arm. "No flowers for him," he said. The maid wept: "Oh, I
loved him." But the spirit grim and frowning: "No flowers for him."

"Now, this is it. 'If the spirit was just, why did the maid weep?' If
our standard of morality is right, why do our hearts go out for Paula
Tanqueray, for Nora Helmer, for Mad Agnes? Is it because we have become
so humane as to be far ahead of our morality? What does it mean, anyway?
We are told that the contents of the plays seen here last week, are not
fit subjects for the drama. Well, art might as well go out of business,
if it is not going to look life squarely in the face, if it is not going
to sound the very depths of things, and mirror conditions as they are
to-day, for modern humanity. The play in particular, it is clear, must
deal with the intense efforts, the dramatic essences of life; the play
in particular will have nothing to do unless it takes up the crucial
conditions, the large realities, the stirring struggles, the sterling
aspirations of the clashing life of to-day under the new and as yet
unadjusted surroundings. The drama must take up shame and crime, error
and suffering, or there is no plot for a great play anywhere. The few
pretty, romantic, silly stories have been told over and over again. Now
we have grown. There is a larger life before us, and we want something
stronger. We must have plays to educate our critics,--if that is
possible.

"'He who is without sin among ye, let him cast the first stone.' If
Christ had said nothing else, would not this have made him a great man?
Yet after eighteen hundred years it is necessary for another Jew, a
Portuguese Jew named Pinero, to say the same thing through the medium of
a play, because the Christians say that Christ's teachings are immoral.
And then the stones of the critics are thrown at Pinero."

Here I said something about the relation between art and morality, but
Keidansky protested.

"Art has nothing to do with morality," he said, "and therefore it
teaches such great moral lessons. It re-creates and reproduces Nature
and life in forms of beauty and power. And because it approaches
elementary conditions without bias and preconceived notions, and
illumines its material with the touch of human genius, it shows us life
in its largeness, right in its relativeness, and raises us above our
established moralities. Because art is the spontaneous expression of the
humane, the true, the good and the beautiful in our souls, it helps us
to see the larger rights, the greater justice, and helps us to make,
change and advance our morality. Art touches the commonplace and makes
it divine. It makes a saint out of a sinner by showing causes, and
casting a kindly light over human weakness.

"In real life 'The Second Mrs. Tanqueray' is a shameful scandal, to be
exploited by sensational newspapers, and we avoid the parties concerned
and run away from them; but art raises the story to the height of the
tragic and the epic, and we suffer and grieve with Paula, and even the
cold critic, who tries so hard not to be humane, is moved. In life we
are even afraid to mention the names of such people; but art makes us
weep for Camille, sympathize with Sapho, be sad, or gay, with the
vagabond François Villon, sigh for Denise, grieve with Don José, and
follow Manon Lescaut through the desert of North America. Art helps us
to realize that there is no sin but error, no degradation but dulness of
the mind, no vice but lack of vision.

"I don't want to speak to you because you did not go to see Björnson's
'Beyond Human Power' and Mrs. Campbell's acting in that piece. Yet since
you did not go you ought to be enlightened. You have read the story? Did
you see how the critics dodged the issues of the play, beating about the
bush and puzzling each other? A case of faith and reason, you know, and
you mustn't talk about these things. A blind leader of the blind, a man
who 'lacks the sense of reality' and sees only what he wishes to see; a
woman of intellect who wastes her love on him; unbelieving children of a
miracle worker; the clash between the new and the old; the decrepitude
of orthodoxy; the contrast between the master and his disciples and who
can never realize the impossible, unnatural ideals; the faith that
kills. The play has all the tragedy of a dying religion, and the last
act is as powerful as anything I have ever seen anywhere. What does it
mean? To me it indicates the dying of the old Christianity, and I
believe that Björnson, unlike Ibsen, is a Christian. The quiet, subdued,
subtle work of Mrs. Campbell was worthy of the play.

"And there was Henrik Ibsen's 'A Doll's House.' I shall never forget
the performance of it. What a simple story, how concise and terse, not a
superfluous word in the whole of it, yet how strong and stirring! It is
primarily a picture, a powerful dramatic picture without a shadow of
preachiness in it. You say there is a problem in it? Yes, but it's in
the picture, the picture is the problem. Here is a perfect work of a
great master, if there ever was one. There are whole cities made up of
such dolls' houses, with women as playthings, toys, means of amusement,
slaves of conventionality and of slavish men, yet the critics are
croaking and raising the cry of 'immorality.' Save on the New York East
Side Ghetto, Ibsen is comparatively unknown in America, but it is not
true that the American people are not interested in his plays whenever
they are given and that they would not go to see them if more of them
were performed. In saying so the critics say what is not true, as was
manifest from the enthusiastic audiences at the last week's
performances. There is a Yiddish translation of the play by the poet
Morris Winchewsky, and it was performed by Mr. and Mrs. Jacob P. Adler,
but I have never seen it. Mrs. Fiske's 'Nora' is positively great. Her
delicacy, her mastery of light and shade, her manner of speech and
poise, and on the whole her perfect conception of the character is a
stroke of genius. Why did you not see it? Do you want to go? You can pay
for my lunch. Ibsen and Björnson have impoverished me this week."

"So you don't think much of the American critics?" I asked at this
point.

"On the contrary," he said, "with the exception of some, I think they
are all good advertising agents."



XXI

The Poet and the Problem


This time I met Keidansky in front of the Jewish theatre. He had just
left the rehearsal of a play which he had translated from the German
into Yiddish. As I approached he pointed to a huge sign on top of the
building across the street advertising, in a pretty jingle of rhymes, a
new biscuit of undreamed of deliciousness.

"I have solved the problem," he said proudly. This was not such a
surprise to me. To solve problems was my friend's business.

"What problem is that?" I asked.

"The problem of the poet," he answered. "After the ages of oppression,
persecution and poverty, after the exiles, insults and negligence of
centuries, the poet will at last come into his own, into bread and
butter and a respected position in society. Immunity from starvation,
peace, prosperity will at last be his. His worth will be recognized and
he will be put to work and made a useful member of society."

"What will he do?" I asked.

"He will write the advertisements for manufacturers and storekeepers,"
said Keidansky; "he will sing the song of the products of modern
industry, chant of the wonderful performances of the age and glorify the
fruits of our civilization, extol the things of use and of beauty that
serve the needs of to-day's humanity. This will be an ample theme for
his Muse and the guerdon of his song will be tangible. His talents will
serve a great practical need. He will prove at last that there is some
advantage in genius. The world, the world of reality, of facts, figures
and statistics will no longer ask, 'What's the use of poetry?' The world
will recognize its usefulness, and commerce and trade and capital shall
become its friends. In graceful rhymes, in silvery stanzas, in beautiful
verses will the poet voice the marvels of all the results of the
inventiveness, ingenuity and skill with which our era is so richly
blessed. And whatever article on the market will be the burden of his
song, it will bring good prices and make easy the life of the singer.
And people will no longer have to strain their eyes to find the poet's
lines in an obscure corner of a magazine, or in a little volume of tiny
type; the bards will no longer have to depend upon such poor methods of
attracting attention.

"In great, glaring, garish and golden letters their poems will look down
upon people from the rooftops, from the high walls of factories and
barns, from fences and huge signs by all the roadsides, railroad sides,
mountain sides, seasides, and all sides, and people will be compelled to
look up to them, because there will be nowhere else to look. There will
be no escape. The large letters painted in glowing colors and with their
artistic arrangement will arrest the attention of all. And when a
foreigner will come here to study this country and write it up, he will
not be able to see anything on account of these signs which will cover
the land, and after reading the inscriptions upon them, he will go forth
saying that it is the most poetic country in the whole world. So
inspired will the stranger become that he will go forth and tell the
world of the wonderful things we make and advertise here. Thus poetry,
at last, become useful, will help us conquer the foreign market. After
all, the bards will come down from the clouds and the garrets of
starvation, and in their song embrace the whole world; celebrate the
things concrete, material and real. Poetry and the world will at last
become reconciled; spirit and substance will be united to the practical
advantage of the spirit.

"For too long a time has the poet wandered about in distress, begging
for a pittance, persecuted everywhere, singing his song for nothing,
with starvation and inspiration as his only rewards. For too long a time
has the poet, 'the unacknowledged legislator of the world,' been
subjected to all manner of scorn, persecution, calumny, and been
compelled to seek in vain some one who will pay well for a dedication of
his work. His own lot was ever hard, and, besides, he suffered all the
sorrows of humanity. He lived with all and grieved with all. He put his
life into his songs, yet few paid any heed to them. Poets have ever been
the victims of the prosiness of things. The world was ever ugly to them
because they made it so beautiful. No matter how great their
immortality, they never could pay their rent. 'A genius is an accused
man,' said Victor Hugo in his book on Shakespeare, and then he goes on
to enumerate all the banishments, persecutions, imprisonments and
outrages that were heaped upon the poets of all lands and all ages,
including Victor Hugo himself. Yes, a poet has ever been an accused man,
and nearly every one has found him guilty. But as I say, these cruelties
had for too long been practised upon the singers and the time has come
for a change. With the advance of civilization he will be given useful
employment, a decent wage, and thus enabled to make a living without
working overtime. Richard Le Gallienne shall weep no more for a
government endowment for the poet. The poet shall become
self-supporting. He will sing of things whereof the owners can afford to
pay for the song. Whether he will create immortal works or not he will
work, and work is immortal. It will continue unto the end of time."

Here I wished to remonstrate, but Keidansky would not permit me. He
continued, as we walked along through the Ghetto.

"The human and other machines of the age are bringing such wonderful
things into existence, and the poet will lift his voice in praise of
them. It really takes the imagination of a poet to picture and glorify
the countless commodities that are manufactured and put upon the markets
of our time. It takes a poet to point out their usefulness. What will he
not sing of on those huge street signs and in the double-page
advertisements in the newspapers? Of pre-digested foods, of squeezeless
corsets, of baking powder that bakes the cakes without any form of heat,
of ink that endows the pen with brains, of cigars that are conducive to
health, of watches that make people up to date, of a hair restorer that
keeps the hair you have, of shoes with which you can walk in the air, of
clothes that make man and woman out of nothing, pianos that make
Paderewskys, of bicycles and typewriters, and razors and house-lots and
furniture, and peerless, rare, surpassing, extraordinary everything
mentionable. What will he not sing of? These things will be. God will
send us a Bobby Burns and he will sing the song of the best steamship
company, and he will not only be able to go abroad often, but he may in
the course of time even become the general passenger agent. It takes a
competent fortune to escape the materialism of the age, and to acquire
this the poet will associate himself with the material interests of the
time and become as free as a bird in the woods.

"The process has begun, and already one finds pretty little poems and
fine sentiments in all advertisements, particularly those that meet
one's eyes in the street cars. I usually have a book with me on the
cars, but of late I find the advertisements more amusing. Pretty soon
the best literature will appear in the advertisements of all
publications. One firm advertises in choice epigrams, which show the
possibilities for some future wits. I do not know whether they are
written by Elbert Hubbard or not, but they sound like it and show which
way things are going.

"This is the solution of the problem of the poet. I pondered over it
long, but found it at last. Our hope comes from Parnassus. The poets
will help us conquer the foreign market."



XXII

"My Vacation on the East Side"


"Green fields, fair forests, singing streams, pine-clad mountains,
verdant vistas--from the monotony of the city to the monotony of nature.
I wanted a complete change, and so I went to the East Side of New York
for my vacation. That is where I have been."

Thus did our friend explain his strange disappearance and unusual
absence from Boston for a whole week. For the first time since he came
here from New York he had been missing from his home, his regular
haunts, such as the cafés, Jewish book-stores and the debating club, and
none of those whom I asked knew whither he had betaken himself. The
direct cause of his disappearance, explained Keidansky, was a railroad
pass, which he had secured from a friendly editor for whom he had done
some work. He went on explaining. "I wanted to break away for awhile
from the sameness and solemnness, the routine and respectability of this
town, from my weary idleness, empty labors, and uniformity of our ideas
here, so when the opportunity was available I took a little journey to
the big metropolis. One becomes rusty and falls into a rut in this
suburb. I was becoming so sedate, stale and quiet that I was beginning
to be afraid of myself. The revolutionary spirit has somewhat subsided.
Many of the comrades have gone back on their ideas, have begun to
practise what they preach, to improve their conditions by going into
business and into work, and I often feel lonely. Anti-imperialism,
Christian Science and the New Thought are amusing; but there is not
enough excitement here. Boston is not progressive; there are not enough
foreigners in this city. People from many lands with all sorts of ideas
and the friction that arises between them--that causes progress. New
York is the place, and it is also the refuge of all radicals,
revolutionaries and good people whom the wicked old world has cast out.
America, to retain its original character, must constantly be
replenished by hounded refugees and victims of persecution in despotic
lands. To remain lovers of freedom we must have sufferers from
oppression with us. Sad commentary, this, upon our human nature; but so
are nearly all commentaries upon human nature. Commentaries upon the
superhuman are tragic. New York with its Germans and Russians and Jews
is a characteristic American city. Boston and other places are too much
like Europe--cold, narrow and provincial. I came to Boston some time ago
because I had relatives here--the last reason in the world why any one
should go anywhere; but I was ignorant and superstitious in those days.
I have since managed to emancipate myself, more or less, from the
baneful influences of those near; but meanwhile I have established
myself, have become interested in the movements and institutions of the
community, and here I am. The symphony concerts, the radical movement,
the library, lectures on art, the sunsets over the Charles River, the
Faneuil Hall protest meetings against everything that continues to be,
the literary paper published, the Atlantic Monthly, Gamelial Bradford,
Philip Hale and so many other fixtures of Boston have since endeared it
to me and I stayed. Besides, it would cost me too much to ship all my
books to New York.

"But wishing a change, I wanted to go to the big metropolis. No, not to
the country; not for me those parasitic, pestering and polished summer
hotels, where a pile of people get together to gossip and giggle and
gormandize and bore each other for several weeks. An accident once
brought me to one of these places. I went out to see some friends, and I
know what they are. They spend most of their time dressing; these
vacationists dress three times a day; the green waist, and yellow waist,
the brown skirt and the blue suit, the red jacket, the white hat, and
the gray coat, and then the same turn over again; they fill themselves
with all sorts of heavy and unwholesome foods brought from the cities;
they sit around the verandas and talk all day, never daring to venture
into the woods; they do no good to themselves, coming home tired and
sick, and they do unspeakable wrong by turning good, honest farmers into
parasitic, sophisticated boarder-breeders, and by turning them away from
the tilling of the soil. No more of these places for me. Of course, if
one could go into the woods and live as simply as a savage for awhile
it would be fine; but one needs a tent, and I never did own any real
estate.

"But this time I wanted a complete change; I wanted something to move
and stir me out of the given groove, the beaten path I was falling into,
some excitement that would shake the cobwebs out of my brain, so I
turned towards the East Side.

"They are all there, the comrades, the radicals, the red ones, and
dreamers; people who are free because they own nothing. Poets,
philosophers, novelists, dramatists, artists, editors, agitators and
other idle and useless beings, they form a great galaxy in the New York
Ghetto. For several years, ever since I left New York, I had been
receiving instruction and inspiration from them through the medium of
the Yiddish and the Socialist press, where my own things often appeared
beside their spirited outpourings, and now I was overcome by an
overpowering desire to meet them again, talk matters over and fight it
all out. There is no sham about the East Side branch of the ancient and
most honorable order of Bohemians--the little changing, moving world
that is flowing with the milk of human kindness and the honey of
fraternal affections, where those who live may die and those who die may
live. Here among the East Side Bohemians people feel freely, act
independently, speak as they think and are not at all ashamed of their
feelings. They have courage. They wear their convictions in public. They
do as they please, whether that pleases everybody else or not. They
talk with the purpose of saying something. They write with the object of
expressing their ideas. They tell the truth and shame those who do not.
Hearts are warm because they own their souls. Those who really own their
souls will never lose them. As Joseph Bovshover, the fine poet of the
East Side has sung:


     '_Beauty hideth,_
     _Nature chideth,_
     _When the heart is cold;_
     _Fame is galling,_
     _Gold's enthralling,_
     _When the mind is sold._'


"They all assemble in the cafés, those universities of the East Side,
and in these places of judgment all things are determined. Is there a
great world problem that puzzles and vexes all mankind? The debaters at
one of these tea-houses take it up at their earliest discussion and soon
the problem is solved and the way of human progress is clear again. Is
there a question that has troubled the ages? Come and spend fifteen
minutes on the East Side, and the salvation of humanity will be assured
to you. There is so much squalor and suffering and sorrow here that
nothing can overcome the optimism of these chosen people. Their
incurable faith cannot be shaken even by their religious leaders, and
when they become atheists they are the most pious atheists in all the
world. But in the cafés the great issues given up in despair by famous
statesmen are met and decided upon. The trusts? Are they not paving the
way for the realization of Socialism? Not until all the industries have
been concentrated by the trusts will the people through the government
be able to take possession of them. Otherwise, how in the world will the
new régime, for instance, ever organize and take hold of all the peanut
stands of the land? You do not understand the question thoroughly if you
have not read the articles of I. A. Hurwitz in the 'Vorwarts.' The
future of war? There will be no war in the future. The workingmen of all
countries are uniting and so are the capitalists. The international
movement is not laboring in vain. Socialism is spreading in the European
armies. Every government will have enough trouble in its own land.
Others come here and say that every government will have to fight for
its own life and will not be able to do anything else. People will take
Tolstoy's advice and cease to pay taxes and withdraw their support from
the powers that rule. Tolstoy, say some, is a masterful artist, but
puerile as a philosopher, a curious mixture of genius and
narrow-mindedness, a man, who once having erred, now sins against
mankind by denying it the right of erring. The red-haired ragged orator
with blue eye-glasses and the face of a Hebrew Beethoven quotes
Ingersoll. 'Tolstoy,' said the agnostic, 'stands with his back to the
rising sun.' And did not Edward Carpenter say of Tolstoy's book, 'that
strange jumble of real acumen and bad logic, large-heartedness and
fanaticism--What is art?'

"Ibsen is somber because he is almost alone in seeing the most tragic
phases of life, because he feels compelled to treat what all other
artists have neglected. Many of his plays are too much like life to be
acted, and we go to the theatre only to see plays. One of the listeners
speaks of the appreciation of Ibsen in 'The New Spirit,' by Havellock
Ellis, and of the analogy that he finds between Ibsen and Whitman.
Zangwill places Ibsen above Shakespeare, and more recently he has
bestowed great praise upon Hauptmann. Rather strange of Zangwill, who is
himself not a realist and has gone in for Zionism, to like Ibsen so
much. And who is greater than Ibsen? some one asks. 'Perhaps it is I.
Zangwill,' says the cynical, frowzy and frowning little journalist. G.
Bernard Shaw is mentioned as a candidate, and his great little book on
Ibsenism comes in for a heated discussion. Brandes is quoted, and
several of his admirers present go into ecstasies over his works and
almost forget the writers whom he has treated. The pale-faced,
wistful-eyed poet with the Christlike face rises high on the wings of
his eloquence in praise of the Danish critic's appreciation of Heine,
and Brandes is declared to be one of the greatest Jews in the world.
What was it Brandes said about Zionism? Zionism, Socialism and Anarchism
come up in turn, and so many trenchant and vital things are said on
these subjects. Will the novel pass away? The dramatist--bulky and
bearded, impressive and strong-looking, with wonderful piercing
eyes--the dramatist is inclined to think that it will. The short story
is the story of the future. Long novels give one a glimpse of eternity.
By the time you come to the last chapter, conditions have so changed in
the world that you do not know whether the story is true to life or not.
It is the necessarily historical, the long novel is. Old Jules Verne has
won the East Side over with the fine words he has said on Guy De
Maupassant. Some admirers of Z. Libin say that the Frenchman is too
romantic, but on the whole he is the favorite story-writer. 'Yes,' says
the Jewish actor, 'De Maupassant writes for all the Yiddish papers'; and
in fact all the East Side dailies have for years been treating their
readers to his charming tales. He may be imagined to be a constant
contributor. Did not an old Israelite walk into the office of the
'Jewish Cry' and ask to see Friedrich Nietzsche? And then the problem of
Nietzsche comes up; whether he was, or was not a reaction against, or
the opposite extreme from, the meekness of Christianity, the weakness of
his time. Wagner's music, Stephen Phillips's poetry, Zola's essay on
realism, Maeterlinck's transcendentalism, Gorky's rise in letters, the
Anglo-Saxon isolation in literature, Ludwig Fuldas's latest play, all
these things are decided upon by people who understand them, more or
less.

"I cannot tell you more, but these meetings and these talks at various
times and in various places made my vacation on the East Side
delightful. Then there were lectures and meetings and social gatherings
of the comrades. The sun of new ideas rises on the East Side. Everywhere
you meet people who are ready to fight for what they believe in and who
do not believe in fighting. For a complete change and for pure air you
must go among the people who think about something, have faith in
something. Katz, Cahan, Gordin, Yanofsky, Zolotaroff, Harkavy, Frumkin,
Krantz, Zametkin, Zeifert, Lessin, Elisovitz, Winchevsky, Jeff,
Leontief, Lipsky, Freidus, Frominson, Selikowitch, Palay, Barondess, and
many other intellectual leaders, come into the cafés to pour out wisdom
and drink tea, and here comes also Hutchins Hapgood to get his
education. Each man bears his own particular lantern, it is true, but
each one carries a light and every one brings a man with him.

"There was that memorial mass-meeting in honor of Hirsh Leckert, the
Jewish shoemaker, who shot at the governor of Wilna, who took his life
in hand to avenge a hideous outrage perpetrated upon his fellow-workers
by a despicable despot. The Jewish working-people of Wilna organized a
peaceful procession, and at the behest of the governor hundreds of them
were mercilessly flogged--flogged until they fainted, and when revived,
flogged again. Then came this lowly hero, Leckert, and made a glorious
ascent on the scaffold. In the afternoon news reached the East Side
that Leckert was hanged. The same evening the working-people, just out
of their factories and sweat-shops, in overwhelming numbers assembled in
New Irving Hall, and the fervor and enthusiasm, the sobbing and the
sighing, the tear-stained faces and love-lit eyes--the soul-stirring
eulogies delivered--I shall never forget it. I tell you no man ever saw
anything greater or more inspiring on his vacation.

"Mr. Jacob Gordin gave me a memorable treat, took me to see his latest
and one of his best plays, 'Gott, Mensch, und der Teufel.' I have seen
many of his works and it is hard to decide which is the best because
they are nearly all so good. But this strange story of a Jewish Faust,
the pious, saintly Jew who, tempted by Satan's gold, step by step loses
his soul and cannot live without it; this wonderful blending of modern
realism and supernatural symbolism, this superb summary of man and the
new problem of life, the beauty and the strength of the work, is
remarkable, to say the least. 'As in times of yore,' says Satan, 'the
sons of Adam are divided into Abels and Cains. The former are constantly
murdered and the latter are the constant murderers. Gracious Lord, in
the new man there dwells the old savage Adam.' Sorry I cannot tell you
more about it now, but the last words of the play have been ringing
through my mind ever since I saw it.


     '_All must die, all that is and lives;_
     _Life alone is immortal._

     _That only is mortal that desires and strives,_
     _The striving and the desire immortal._'


"Why," added Keidansky, as a final thunderbolt, "I have gained enough
ideas on the East Side to last me here in Boston for ten years."



XXIII

Our Rivals in Fiction


"After all, what is man when compared to the hero of romance?" asked
Keidansky. "Beside the dashing, dauntless, duelling cavalier that now
moves through the popular novel and struts our stage," he said, "the
ordinary, mortal man of mere flesh and blood pales into insignificance.
Beside the extraordinary exploits of the storied hero, the doings of the
every-day man are like the foolish games of little children, only not
half so graceful. Beside the strange adventures of the leading
character, the simple efforts of earthly man are accounted as naught. It
would not be so bad if no one ever made comparisons, but women do, and
so men are always found wanting, and have a harrowing time of it.

"In the epic, the drama, the novel, the hero has nothing else to do but
to make love, to deliver pretty speeches, perform remarkable feats and
look graceful, and so he is ever so attractive. He plays upon the
hearts, takes hold of the minds, fastens himself upon the imaginations
of the gentle fair and fanciful. He knows just what to say, just what to
do, and just where to go, just when to return, and is always so
punctual--appears just in the nick of time to save as many lives as are
in danger. He becomes a model, a type, that the lady fair goes in quest
of, when the play is over, or the novel is ended. She turns to life for
the realization.

"In real life the young man has other things to do than making love,
posing prettily, whispering sweet somethings, framing compliments and
acting the gallant and defender of the fair and perfectly safe. He has
other things to do than wearing fine clothes and winning smiles. In real
life he has a real battle to fight. In real life he cannot always look
neat, act aptly, prate loudly, and say the improper thing at the proper
time. The improper thing at the proper time--that is the secret of
genius. Things are not so smooth in life. The guidance of Providence is
not so clear as are the directions of the playwright and novelist. Hard
to tell just what to do, just what to say, just where to go, and just
when to swear with impunity. Human beings are clumsy, awkward, uncouth.
Life is an embarrassing affair. To observe all the niceties is madness,
not to observe them is to be sent to a madhouse. What can a man do
against his all-powerful rival in fiction and the drama. His course is
clear, but we walk in darkness. The ways of God are mysterious, the ways
of men are crooked, and then--we are told to find the way. No matter how
much you stand on ceremony you are likely to slip and fall anyway. Life
is a labyrinth for which there is no specific geography.

"To state the matter more definitely, the problem is this: A young man
spends a half of his week's wages, takes the lady of his heart's desire
to the theatre--and she falls in love with the hero of the play--the
omnipresent, omnipotent hero. His every look, every word, every gesture,
every step, every venture--it is just too lovely for anything. Oh, it is
adorable, entrancing! And the young man who took her to the theatre, the
young man who really exists, what does he amount to? What a puny dwarf
he becomes beside the great giant of the drama. Who can say things so
sweetly, so smoothly, so sonorously, as the leading character or
characters in a play? Who can do things so neatly, so masterfully, and
surmount such overwhelming difficulties in the twinkling of an eye? Such
magnetic, magnanimous, majestic figures! It was after a pretty love
scene on the stage that I once heard a lady sitting near me say to her
companion, 'Oh, if some one would say "my dear" to me in that manner!'
And perhaps the young lady will go all through life without finding the
man, who will know enough to imitate that actor.

"A young man buys the latest and most loudly advertised historical novel
and sends it to the lady of his dreams. On the next evening when he
calls she is so absorbed, so immersed in the book that she hardly has
anytime to speak to him. When she does look up from the tome she tells
him all about the hair-raising hero, Count de Mar. 'He is a man,' she
says, and so goes on to relate about his mighty exploits. There is
nothing worth while in all the world except a man like Count de Mar.
Imagine, if you can, how the young man feels. And the lady chases the
phantom of Count de Mar in real life until she becomes a shadow of her
former self, and the young man goes through existence cursing the
historical novel in general and Count de Mar in particular. What else
but misery should there be for mere man of mere reality? What is he
beside such lords of creation as Count de Mar, Richard Carvel, Ralph
Percy, Ralph Marlow, Stephen Brice, Clayton Halowell, Charley Steele,
Jean Hugon, Marmaduke Howard, Count Karobke, Boris Godofsky, Louis De
Lamoy, General Kapzen, Prince Meturof--what is he beside these?
Everything is so small in life, in books things are so big. The world is
already created, but fiction is still being written. If Adam were
created by a novelist he would have fared much better. The story would
never have ended happily. These wonderful heroes, what fine means they
have, what splendid opportunities, what glorious achievements, what
great accomplishments are theirs. They can do just as they please, have
fortunes to squander, and riot in luxuries. They are all born rich, or
their rich relatives die early, and in good will.

"In reality it is so different. We have to work for a living and poverty
is our reward. In real life we have to write historical novels for a
living. We have to write popular plays and pretty poems and sugarcoated
stories. Yes, such is life, and there is poverty and the misery of the
masses, and there are social problems and political evils--things
unknown in the average novel, and in popular art generally. We must do
so much that is irksome in order to have a pleasurable moment.

"When Richard Mansfield was delivering those sumptuous stump speeches in
Shakespeare's spectacular melodrama of 'Henry V.' and the soldiers were
stirred up to the highest pitch of enthusiasm, the fair fraulein in
front of me constantly kept saying, 'Who wouldn't fight for Harry?' Who
wouldn't fight for Harry? A tremendous artist with superb words put into
his mouth by Shakespeare, with a beautiful scenic background behind him,
with gorgeous costumes and gleaming armor, with glowing electric lights,
with an army of well-drilled, well-paid supers, with all the pomp and
power of a king on the stage--who wouldn't fight for Harry? But the
poor, obscure, unknown Harry of real life, who faithfully fights against
poverty, disease, despair, who battles for the right, for his honor and
salvation, without scenic effects, without any art, or author's
directions, without any light or armor, without any aid or guides,
without any one to show the way--this Harry, who will fight for him? Who
does not fight against him? What fair damosel will deign to smile on him
and shed some sunshine into his life?

"This was on a street car, and I overheard a young woman say to her
escort, 'Ah, if you would only put your gloves on as Mansfield does in
"Beaucaire"!' So this was the great thing in the play--the manner in
which 'Beaucaire' donned his gloves. And yet--fool that I was--I had
wondered why an actor of Mansfield's surpassing talent should put on
the stage such a trivial, trashy affair. And I had gone without gloves
all winter in order that I might be able to see Mansfield. Heavens! But
see, how the little niceties, the small delicacies and the petty graces
on the stage and in books eclipse all our drudging and trudging, moiling
and toiling in real life. We are expected to observe them whatever else
we do. Failing in these we fail to win affections and are voted dead
failures. Beside these we are expected to do things that can only be
done in books and on the stage, under the auspices of Alexandre Dumas
the elder and Victor Sardou, for instance. We are expected to equal
those magic creatures of the imagination, the heroes with their opulent
supplies of good looks, words and wealth, and their strange power to do
aught on earth.

"James--we will call him that--is red-headed, freckled, plain, and
generally not at all dudish. He is, however, true, loyal, devoted and
determined to do some good in the world. He tries to meet her every day
after work. He often brings a flower with him, tucked up in his sleeve.
Once we saw him press it to his lips, for soon the bloom will be hers.
But she is reading an historical novel, and even the flower fails to
deliver his message and fades without fulfilling its mission. Of course,
James has this advantage over the ideal hero in the novel: that he
really exists; but what is reality to the glowing fancy of a youthful
maiden? And in spite of his existence, where does James come in?

"These are local and popular incidents I have mentioned, but in a
measure all literature, all art has created impossible dreams,
unattainable ideals. This is probably the reason why so many aspirations
have failed. They were not founded on reality. There are in life
considerations 'without which the noblest dreams are a form of opium
eating.' Who knows how many have gone grieving through life because they
have followed the phantoms conjured up by the false standards of art?
With all that is great and grand, heroic and epic in real life there is
still such a thing as


     '_The high that proved too high, the heroic for earth too hard,_
     _The passion that left the ground to lose itself in the sky._'


"Anyway, it is about time to protest against the false heroes of paper
and ink, who cut us out of our earthly paradise, to give our rivals in
fiction the death stab; about time to remember that that which is not
cannot be great, and that all the beauty of this universe is in real
life. It is about time to deny the existence of that which does not
exist.

"This demand for the superhuman is inhuman. We are not what we are not.
We cannot do what we cannot do, and these platitudes are as profound as
they are obvious. The weakness of the world is pointed out by its
heromania. That we look for our heroes not in life but in artificial
creations shows how blind we are. The most striking sign of our
imperfection is our longing for impossible perfection. Life has a great
grudge against art. It has been slighted, disregarded, abused. With its
misleading models it has set up an unjust competition against life. The
hope is that the artists to come will give life a hearing and adjust
matters. As for the novelists, every time the good Mr. Howells
horsewhips the swashbucklers I heartily applaud him. But I am not going
to lay down any principles. I don't feel like it to-day. Perhaps things
as they were were for the best. Perhaps it is for the dreams of women
that there are real men in the world to-day. Perhaps it is their longing
for the impossible that made the best that is possible to-day. I
sometimes think that a woman's reason is the very acme of all wisdom.
But I am going to treat this thing more fully in my volume of essays--if
I ever get around to writing them."



XXIV

On Enjoying One's Own Writings


I was alone, ensconced in a corner of the noisy, smoky café, perusing
the pages of a valued volume. Keidansky walked in hastily, took up my
book and looked at it.

"How can you read anything that you have not written yourself?" he
asked, with surprising solemnity. "Why, I don't mind it any longer; I am
used to it now," I mumbled in astonishment. But conversations with
Keidansky are one-sided. Before I had formed half a thought he was all
ready with speech.

"You are coming down, dear fellow," he said; "you are compromising and
becoming reconciled to everything. You cannot supply your own demand, so
you are going elsewhere for your literature--spending on others your
days and your nights that you may devote to the excavations of the
things that lie deep and dormant within thyself. I wager that before
long you will even be reading the classics. You will abdicate from the
sovereignty of your own genius, and measure life by the enjoyment that
you derive from the things that other people do.

"Aliens, foreigners, strangers as far away from you as different
individuals are, millions of miles of impassable icebergs impeding any
possible approach. They were not born as you were born, they have not
lived as you have lived, they have not loved as you have loved, they
have not hated as you have hated, they have not grappled with the
agonies as you have, they have not died as you have over and over again,
and yet--you read their books and pretend to enjoy them."

I asked my friend to be seated, but he preferred to stand up, and with a
characteristic wave of the hand, showed his annoyance at being
interrupted. "If you have not felt what I have felt," he said, "it is
useless for me to speak to you, and for you to enjoy what I write is
hard and tedious labor. You cannot get behind the things others say, and
all that remains for you to do is to read the meaning in so many words;
and no meaning is ever absolutely uttered in so many words. There is
almost always something unsaid behind the thing that is said. There is
as much in as there is out. Thought is an endless chain of which we only
see separate rings. We are fortunate to see that in the case of other
persons. Most often you only hear and read their talk. But when you read
your own thought, you read so vastly more than you have written, and you
read the history of your thoughts, their far-away causes, their
prehistoric origins, and their subterranean sources--and you enjoy it.
You enjoy it, if you are intimately concerned in one near and dear
personality, in the greatest study in all mankind--yourself. Also, if
you are interested in the evolution of human thought, and can see it
through the operations of your own mind.

"We say in Yiddish about this or that person: '_Er kumt mit sich fun
ein stedtel_.' Well, I, too, come from the same town with myself. I have
gone through the dark labyrinth of life with myself in my hand. I have
felt, experienced and known the same things that Keidansky has gone
through, and--frankly--I enjoy my own writings. Sometimes my favorite
works are my own. They move me, they stir me and they stimulate me to
higher things. There is a quality about them, more human, more intimate,
more personal, that brings them nearer to me than any other writings.
The pathos is so touching, the humor so rollicking, the satire so
pungent. It is all so effective, significant and strong. Words, lines,
sentences, pages that fall flat on the ears of another, they are
pregnant with meaning, choked full of suggestion, and often so
thrilling. That one has felt, thought, said, given birth to these
things, is so fine; so splendid to watch a grand procession of the
children of your brain--particularly when you are intuitively convinced
that they are, well, a goodly and well-formed brood, and worthy of you.
They have to be quite robust to withstand that uncomfortable critical
sense.

"You see, I want a personality, a man, a certain mental attitude, a
sense of reserve force, deep-rooted sincerity and determined intentions
behind what I read, and I am sure of all that, in the case of my own
writings. This gives one a feeling of gladness and joy. In the
productions of others one must grope in darkness, painfully explore,
and so often search in vain for these qualities through their mental
manoeuvres and spiritual contortions.

"In our own work we can easily forgive the flaws, faults and
shortcomings. We know why they exist, and to what to attribute them; we
realize that they are not due to lack of talent or any cause like that.
Our characteristic carelessness, our hasty manner, impatience at the
slow accommodations of mere mechanical words, a desire to say too many
things at the same time--if it is not the one, it is the other. But we
know that we could do better if we wanted to; if we cared less about the
matter than about the form. We know that the quality is there. There is
nothing the matter with that. But somehow we cannot account so well for
the crudities, defects and deformities in the performances of others,
which jar upon us terribly and mar so much of our pleasure. Their
failings are so flagrant, their meanings so nebulous, their ideas so
hazy. It is all so far off and so unsatisfying. Why do people write
things we do not like? Oh, the rogues, we answer ourselves, as the
thought comes to us, they must be doing it for their own enjoyment. They
can fill in the gaps, read in everything that is lacking; they can make
masterpieces while they read their commonplace utterances--but we? We
ought to read our own immortal works. We ought to, if we have any
appreciation of great literature.

"One great source of the enjoyment of our own writings is that as we
read we remember when each thought came to us, whence each idea sprang
into birth, how each flying fancy originated, and every vaporous whimsy
took shape. We go over the old ground, tread the paths of the past
again, the paths overgrown with grass, or covered with the moss of the
years, and we live our life over again. Words, lines, paragraphs, pages;
each turn of a phrase brings one back to some turning-point of life;
each flash of thought is the reflection of some vital incident. Behind
every revolution of mind was a distinct period of evolution. Every old
cry conjures up a crisis. That epigram sums up an entire epoch. This
page is a condensed history of your heart. Yonder little etching, who
knows of what stuff you have woven it? It all comes back to you so
vividly, so graphically, so impressively. You read the things that you
have written, no matter how long ago, and you live your life over again.
The past reaches out its arms and hugs you to its tender breast again.

"One night, far away from the city, nigh by the sea, a painful silence
was broken by agonizing speech. One word, and the world that God had
created in seven days was annihilated for you in a second. When you came
back in the silence of a sleepless night you wrote in your note-book.
'Our dreams are crimes for which we are punished by the harsh realities
of the world.' See how ideas evolve! One day you were chided on the
shortness of your stature. You said that you have not had any time to
grow. Later you said to some one else that the shape of one's destiny
depends on the management of his time.

"The origin of a thought is greater than the thought. It is often an
entire drama; and you see it performed as you read. The crowding
multitudes of memories that your literary productions bring up! This was
suggested at a social gathering, where you felt distressingly lonely,
and it was such a soothing consolation. It was while witnessing a play
that that idea came into your mind. The play was a popular success, so
you were thinking your own thoughts. One night at a symphony concert you
wrote on the edge of a programme: 'Music makes mute poets of us all.'
You read it years after, and oh, the cherished recollections that it
brings up! But no one else can ever know how great that line is. Here is
an idea that illumined your mind while in conversation with ----. There
were so many delightful conversations, stirring discussions, endearing
episodes; there were scenes that you witnessed, events transpired of
which you were part; there were little dramas of which you were both the
villain and the hero. They have all passed away, and yet you have saved
them from oblivion because you have written, and they cannot die. All
things are immortal so long as you live. You read, and the old talks and
the old walks, the things that you have seen and done, the joys you have
felt and the sorrows you have endured come back and you enjoy them over
again. You find this in your writings and so much more. The net results
of your own ruminations are so large that there is no wonder all other
writers suffer from the comparison. Your writings are the plants, the
weeds and the flowers that have grown out of your life, and their aroma
and fragrance of earliest bloom follow you to the end of your days.
There is that in your inner consciousness which you cannot find anywhere
else.

"The whole universe is within yourself; in others there is only a queer
notion of it. Your crudest expression has more feeling and thought
behind it than the most beautiful expression of others. We all cherish
and relish our own screeds. Are we not all convinced of their merits and
superior qualities? Are we not all anxious to secure editors and
publishers? And who rejects them? These editors and the publishers, the
people who had nothing to do with the production of these undoubted
works of genius. I have piles of scraps of old bits of paper and
note-books up in my place, extending over a number of years. They
contain stray fragments of thought that I have jotted down at all places
and seasons and under all sorts of circumstances. As I come across them
now and then, I not only re-experience what has long vanished, but I am
again exalted unto all heights of human aspiration and inspiration. The
foolishness and the follies, the faith and the fervor, and the blind
hopes of my youth are mine again.

"Once I was with some Jewish actors, friends of mine, when a
long-bearded, old-fashioned Israelite came in to offer them a play that
he had written for production. It was such a touching, thrilling story,
the old man said, that it made him weep every time he read it--weep like
a child over the sad complications of the characters in his play. Oh, if
he could only see it performed, it would melt, it would break his heart.
Oh, if the actors would only take it! And as he began to read parts of
the first act we actually saw tears in his eyes. There you have it. What
Dickens, what Tolstoy, what Perez, what Gordin could probably not do for
this man, he had done for himself. His own writings made him weep.
Honestly, now," Keidansky broke out violently, "don't you enjoy your own
effusions?"

I admitted that they often gave me pleasure, and that at other times I
felt strongly disappointed over them. "Sometimes," I said, "I am puzzled
and cannot account how I have done certain things. I say to myself that
I must have been drunk to have been so witty; or I imagine that I must
have been in the company of bright people to have been so dull. Often as
I read I think that my stomach was out of order to make me so
thoughtful. And again I am sure that I was awfully hungry to have been
so ingenious." I confessed that I found it quite possible to overlook
and forgive the faults of my own compositions, and that on the whole
they were not infrequently a source of pleasure to me. I ventured to say
that I also enjoyed a few things that other people have written.

"Well," said Keidansky, and then he became silent for awhile.

"Immortal works are good enough to kill time," he said after a pause;
"but my own writings for real, downright enjoyment, every time. At the
occasion of a big convention or political gathering in a certain city
the newspaper correspondents, I am told, present a striking scene as
they assemble in the lobby of their hotel when the newspapers arrive.
Each man rushes to the news-stand and buys 'his paper,' and loses not a
minute before reading his own report. There they sit all together,
oblivious even of a good piece of news, should it happen to be near
them, each one buried in his newspaper, intently reading his complete
account of the stormy proceedings, and many of them cursing and swearing
at the stupid editors, 'who left out the best things.' Editors are
always stupid and always leave out the best things; but if they didn't
they would be idiots. My point, however, is that this scene shows how
much people enjoy their own writings. Each author has at least one great
admirer.

"And this is saying nothing of the gratification of writing, of the
thrills of pleasure one feels, when a burst of inspiration breaks upon
him, of the great, unutterable moments of exultation when a new heaven
of thoughts opens before one's mind, of the joys of perpetuating the
evanescent and the fleeting."

My friend was about to enumerate some more examples, but it was growing
late into the night, so I said:

"But you do read some things that eminent authors have written, do you
not?"

"Yes," said Keidansky, "but merely for purposes of comparison. I want to
see how total is their eclipse!"





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