Chapter VII



The Jews have made a habit of saying, When someone goes to the Bible for criticism of Jewish things, that the Devil is fond of quoting from the Scriptures.  I am afraid that, before they are through reading this book, it is not at all unlikely that they will accuse the Devil of having written them.

I call your attention to verses ten and eleven of the sixth chapter of Deuteronomy:  "And it shall be when the Lord thy God shall bring thee into the land which He swore unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob, to give thee - (there will be) great and goodly cities which thou didst not build, and houses full of good things which thou didst not fill, and cisterns hewn out, which thou didst not hew, vineyards and olive trees, which thou didst not plant, and thou shalt eat and be satisfied."

The Lord might have added, in the same spirit:  "And there shall be paintings and statues for you to appraise, breathe profoundly significant words over, and sell at a goodly price, which thou hast not conceived in thine own heart;  poems to recite and put into eloquent anthologies which thou hast not written or encouraged;  operas (containing prima donnas ready for seduction) which thou wilt parade pompously through the world's great cities, but which thou hast not taken the trouble to measure out;  and the great businesses to inflate which were first conceived in the brains of the goyim, wrought into shape by the sinews of the goyim, but the profits of which shall legitimately be yours.  All these and much more shall be thine for the adopting and adapting, that they may shine as a cultural light over thy dark heads, to remain a glory to Israel forever."

The author of Deuteronomy had a real understanding of the profound indolence of the Jewish national attitude towards the real work of the world.  He brings it into light in more places than the passage I have singled out for quoting.  He says nothing about the Jewish attitude towards the arts, for the very excellent reason that the Jewish arts then, as now, were quite non-existent.  I have never paid much attention to the national Jewish reluctance to join in the manual labor of the world, although it has always seemed to me a very grave flaw in our character.  But I have been annoyed by our attitude towards the arts, and once, in my book Now and Forever I tried to explain it away in the following manner: 

"Zangwill: You don't seriously mean that you look upon the making of statues and paintings as harmful?

"Roth: Only the other day I was explaining this to one of your Georgian poets who was sharing tea with me in a dark corner of the Savoy dining-room.  'How is it,' he asked me, nodding a pig's head, 'that you Jews have contributed nothing to the plastic arts?'  I took up the delicate saucer from under my cup and rapped it gently against his bald pate.  He looked grieved but I hastened to explain myself.  'If you knew,' I said to him, 'that every time you made such a saucer it would split over your head, would you be anxious to continue producing them?'

"But the making of statues and paintings is harmful to us in yet another way.  To survive, we Jews must love nothing better than ourselves.  This is how the rabbis considered the matter.  Once Jews take to the making of images, they would create in shadow and in stone, figures so much more beautiful, and so much more appealing than the figures in their own flesh and blood, that, being a people with a sense of justice, they would learn to prize them more.  The rabbis feared that the presence within our sight of overwhelmingly beautiful figures sprung out of our foreheads, would degrade for us the people passing before us in the common robes of humanity." [22] 

But no.  Jews are not satisfied with understanding their barrenness.  On the contrary, they must make it appear that the barrenness is an illusion.  The desert is not a desert if it is a Jewish desert, but an orchard chocked with fruit trees.  It is not necessary to even respond to the spirit of creation to prove yourself of a creative nature - if you happen to be a Jew.  A pose is all the equipment you need.  And so it has become an old Jewish habit to assume that the Jew has culturally enriched every country he has favored with his presence and his patronage.  This lofty assumption, especially in the field of culture, comes instinctively to a people whose interest goes out to all things the pursuit of which involves the expenditure of a minimum of energy.

Many articles and books have already been written on the subject of how much the Jews have enriched America culturally.  Needless to add, Jews authored them.  And while it is undoubtedly true that Jews have given themselves over infinitely to the vain-show and inglorious barter which everywhere accompany the development of the arts and the sciences, I cannot find anything of value that they have themselves created in their two hundred and fifty years residence on the American continent.

This is true in science as well as in arts.  In science, it is usual for the American Jew to invoke the names of Jacques Loeb in biology and Charles Steinmetz in electricity.  But American Jewry's claim to these laurels is very vague.  Both Loeb and Steinmetz were born in Germany.  They grew up in Germany and developed their insights in German universities and laboratories.  Having attained noticeable stature in their own countries, they were invited, as was Albert Einstein later, to make their homes in America.  The invitations, even, came not from Jews but from non-Jewish organizations interested in scientific research and in whatever values these men could bring to the promotion of certain vast commercial enterprises.  It had nothing to do with culture in the first place.  And, in the second place, if it were a matter of culture, the Jews would certainly have had nothing to do with it.  A cultural contact between these two scientists and American Jewry would have been unthinkable and abhorrent to the scientists.  At no time while Loeb and Steinmetz lived in America did their lives even faintly touch the life of the Jewish community.  If being in America meant anything to Jacques Loeb, it certainly did not crop up in his work which was a magnificent attempt to prove that animal (including human) life is as mechanical as any machine which we ourselves put together out of the raw and crumby materials of a disordered nature.  As for Steinmetz, no man of his time worked harder than he to split up the poor electron which has neither race nor sex.  It is difficult to imagine even his corpse at a Zionist rally.

In painting, sculpture and music the Jews conjure up a swarm of names.  In painting as in sculpture there is not a name I would trouble to remember or repeat.  In music it has become good form to praise the work of George Gershwin.  But you have only to sound it next to the name of Edward McDowell to realize its hollowness.

In poetry, what Jewish names can we offer to place next to the names of Edgar Allen Poe, Walt Whitman, Robert Frost or Edwin Arlington Robinson?

The closest Jewish approach to poetry in America was in the work of a woman, Ada Isaacs Menken, a descendant of French Huguenauts in New Orleans, who for two years before the appearance of Leaves of Grass, published her Infelcia, in the same style, poetry both trenchant and lovely.  She married a Jew in Baltimore, and her marriage was short-lived; owing to the untimely death of her husband.  But she had become so strangely enamored of Jewish ideas that she continued to regard herself, for the rest of her life, as a guardian of the Jewish People.  She began, after her husband's death, to publish a weekly periodical devoted to Jewish news and the discussion of Jewish problems, but found Baltimore too tedious, and moved her operations to Europe and England.  In England she became the center of attraction for English writers and European writers who came to England to visit. [23]  When all Jewry was excoriating Charles Dickens for the character of Fagin in Oliver Twist, it was she who extracted from him the promise that he would remunerate the Jews for the damage done them by creating, in another novel, the character of a good Jew. [24]  But it should also be noticed that, after her husband, she never again made friends with Jews.  She married again three times.  Once she descended to the level of taking a prize fighter for a husband.  But never another Jew.

Emma Lazarus repeated in English some of the plaintive melodies of Heine.  But in her own right she was not a poet worthy of remembrance.  The names of James Oppenheim, Alter Brody, Donald Evans and Joseph Auslander are repeatedly suggested.  But they only testify to the Jew's eternal reaching out for honors which are beyond his reach.  James Oppenheim's verses reveal the futility of an American Jew trying to climb to the prophetic heights of Issaiah on the ladder of Walt Whitman.  Brody's free verse sketches of the Jewish east side have a thin, shrill lyricism; they no more make poetry than the sketches of Martha Wolffenstein which were written in unpretentious (and therefore more serviceable) prose.  Donald Evans did achieve a measure of poetry.  But his work, alas, broke down, prematurely, with his brief life.  He even achieve an imitator in the untidy verses of Maxwell Bodenheim.  But no one will be grateful to him for that.  So much for what the Jews have contributed to American poetry.

In the production of prose American Jewry is, if possible, even poorer.  I understand that Robert Nathan who composed the novel Jonah is a Jew.  I know that the author of Dark Mother, Waldo Frank, is a Jew.  Pearl Buck, after spending twenty years as a Christian missionary to the heathen Chinee, confessed blushingly to being a Galician Jewess.  But Nathan's is very insubstantial irony.  Frank has begun splendidly some of the worse novels published within the last twenty years.  And Pearl Buck is just readable enough to make an amazing exhibition of a cumbersome sentimental machinery.  There is, of course, some merit in every one of these writers, I grant you.  But can you make a national feast of such crumbs?

I am here reminded forcibly of a very portentous omission.  If I did not mention him at all, as I feel I should not, people might conclude that I had either forgotten him or that it would not save my theme to measure his value.  I mean, of course, Ludwig Lewisohn, the author of Upstream, The Case of Mr. Crump, and a dozen other books with which he has harassed the press within the last two decades.  He has attained no mean measure of popularity as a writer of fiction, and even some stature in the critical esteem of the nations as an artist.  Years ago, I recollect, I picked up a book of pleasing translations By Mr. Lewisohn from modern French poets.  I have never been pleased by anything from his pen since.  As a writer, he seems to me gross, vulgar and insincere.  When Upstream appeared, American Jewry made such an issue of it, that nearly fifty thousand copies of it were sold before it was generally realized that it was almost impossible to read the book.  The immense vogue which Upstream enjoyed, described two tragic spectacles:  a popular book that nobody could read, and a newly discovered writer who had gone lost before you could take a good look at him.  Israel which followed it was a hodge-podge of Jewish ideas by a Jew only recently converted to Judaism.  The Island Within revealed hitherto unsuspected narrative powers.  If Mr. Lewisohn practiced long enough, you feel he might qualify as a contributor the Saturday Evening Post.  The Case of Mr. Crump was still easy reading.  But it saddened hope for Mr. Lewisohn's future as a popular writer.  It was now apparent that Mr. Lewisohn too his practice too seriously.  There is scant comfort for American Jewry in the prose of Ludwig Lewisohn. 

We have, however, made one contribution to the scene of letters in the United States which it would be vain for us to try to pass over.  It has made so deep an impression on the life of the continent that it would be difficult to equal in the literary annals of any other country.  It is a contribution no one will dispute with the Jews, because it is such an unpleasant one.  I mean the gossip-column as invented by Walter Winchell and developed by Louis Sobol, George Skolsky and a dozen other Jewish journalists throughout the United States.

The Winchell idea was a very simple one.  People want news, and the majority of the people have a stomach only for news with a certain amount of spice in it.  But there is a limit to the amount of spice to be found in regular news.  Even a newspaper like The Graphic (in which Mr. Winchell was permitted to develop his new Journalistic formula) could not stretch interest in the shabbier tragedies of a day beyond a certain point.  But Mr. Winchell had made a very interesting discovery.  There was a borderline between vital people and the things they would do or might do that provided a much richer field of contemplation for the reader who wanted more spice than even the spiciest news could offer.  To exploit this rich, virgin soil was Mr. Winchell's happy inspiration.

I do not know whether Mr. Winchell approached any other newspaper publishers with this idea.  The records have it that he came to Bernard Macfadden, just as Macfadden had announced his intention of starting an afternoon daily tabloid for New York City.  There is certainly no doubt that Mr. Winchell found a natural home in the Graphic which was reputed to enjoy a total of nine million dollars worth of libel suits against it when it discontinued publication.  At any rate, Mr. Macfadden was the only other Jewish newspaper publisher in New York, and it was inconceivable that Mr. Ochs who professes interest only in "news fit to print" would have given him a hearing.  The Winchell-Macfadden combination was, in the language of Broadway, "a perfect natural."

"I am offering you," explained Winchell, "a new departure in Journalism, maybe in Literature.  Something to give a life to your newspaper that will not be enjoyed  by any of the papers competing with you.  I will explain to you, by example.  Here is a morning paper. Do you see this paragraph announcing a birth in the Gould family?  Pretty flat, don't you think?  But suppose you had printed a week ago that one of the Goulds anticipated a blessed event?  Wouldn't that have been much more exciting?  Here is an item about a divorce in one of New York's most famous theatrical families.  They'll never let the details ooze out, probably too slimy.  So of what interest is the divorce?  But what excitement there would have been if a month ago I had printed in my column a hint that the home-fires in a certain theatrical household were beginning to burn low!  Get me?

"Where will I get my information?  Simple enough.  Such stuff drifts in by the carload through the mail and the telephone into every newspaper office.  As newspapers are constituted today they cannot use nine tenths of this information.  In the first place, it is never authentic enough.  In the second place, there is always danger of a libel suit.  What is needed to bring this mass of really exciting news into the newspapers?  A new language.  English, yes.  But an English with more than one meaning.  An English with words of possible three or four different kinds of meanings.  An insinuating, clear-hinting, spicy language.  And it wont matter whether your information is correct or not.  You can practically manufacture your own sensations."

This is what Mr. Winchell proposed to make of a column, the medium which once served Eugene Field and still serves Heywood Broun.  What he has done, and how successfully he has done it, are matters of record.  His manner and methods were very swiftly aped - by other Jews.  Yes, there are a few gentiles who do gossip-columns, but they are conspicuously unsuccessful.  The success of the gossip-columnist depends on his ability to shamelessly stick his nose into the most private affairs of people of importance, and on the reckless courage to give publicity to what he learns, regardless of how devastating its effects may be in the lives of the people reflected on.  The work of some of the columnists is occasionally covered with a fine film of blackmail.  But that is, after all, within the national tradition.

What then?  We have certainly partaken of the lustre of the intellectual life of America.  But have we added any rays or radiance to its glitter and charm?  It would seem not.  But that has not prevented us in fulfillment of all the prophecies, from making a good business of the light we found.  In the matter of poetry, for instance.  Not in all their combined lives have Poe, Whitman and Frost earned what a well known Jewish salesman of Jewelry earns every year by gathering together their best work, as well as the best works of dozens of other American poets, into anthologies, where they may shine next to "poems" of his own.  The same thing happens in painting, in sculpture, and in music.  The Jew comes into the concert hall as if the very life of music depended on him.  As a matter of fact he is only there to make a collection.

Do you remember, Herbert, one of those innumerable discussions held one night in my West Eighth Street bookshop on what was wrong with the American novel?  Let me recall it to you.  John Gould Fletcher, in New York on one of his visits from England, had walked in on us accidentally.  Karl Wisehart was there too: at that time he was toying with at least three potential novels of Negro life in the south.  Minna Loy (of the white brow, long gold earrings, and rambling free verse poems in The Little Review) was smoking comfortably and studying the sounds of our voices.  I believe we had also with us that Jewish writer of gypsy stories whose name it is always good taste not to remember.

I don't know how it happened, but the talk had fallen on poor Washington Irving, and someone said what a pity it was that he took such pains with a landscape to which he seemed to have not the faintest human attachment.  Fletcher observed, further, that Herman Melville's persistent preoccupation with foreign scenes made it appear that he was, during his whole life in full flight from American things.  Someone else - and that might have been you - spoke briefly of the cheerless inventions of James Branch Cabell.  I, it must have been who added that Theodore Dreiser's ox-like nibblings at American life suggested the enthusiasm of a man feeding on a diet of sand.  And I think it was Karl who pronounced the inevitable conclusion which we all accepted without further argument.  American literature suffered because of the absence in America of a real love for the American scene.

"What else is there to writing?" cried Karl.  "What is the whole magic of a Tolstoy, a Flaubert, a Dickens, or a Hawthorne?  Every page of Tolstoy reflects as in a mirror Tolstoy's love of the Russian land and everything that flowers and crawls on it.  The prose of Flaubert is a reproduction, in the most exquisite miniature, of the flora and fauna of France.  So anxious was Flaubert to give his writing the natural scenes of the soil of France, that he winnowed out of it even the shadow of an intellectual life.  Dickens, like Fielding before him, had only the most perfunctory interest in natural landscape, but there was not a department of human life on the British Isles that was safe from his prying and tender eyes.  And had not New England been morally as well as physically frozen, Hawthorne might have been easier to take to one's heart.  Since Hawthorne, for all American writers have cared about, we might as well have given our country back to the Indians."

Karl exaggerated, of course, as people usually do in such discussions.  But in the main I think he was correct that night.  The arts spring forth only out of the love of man for the life in which he is rooted, from his attachment to that part of the earth which he has made his home.  It is a man's performance of the double function of taking root and making a real marriage with his country which constitutes culture and civilization.  The offspring of such a marriage are good books, paintings and statues - jewels which the earth yields up only to the most persistent and energetic of her wooers.

What a sorry spectacle the Jew makes on this continent which he pretends to have enriched!  Not only does he fail to contribute any glamour to the scene.  He does not even contribute man-power.  He does not dig wells, plough fields, forge skyscrapers, lay bricks, cut out trenches, spin wheels, bake dough, fell trees, pack tin cans, sweep streets, heave coal, fire furnaces, weave cloth, dig subways, raise ramparts, wall floods, rivet bridges, hinge gates, or fight fires.  Even at a time like this, when more man-power is offered this country than it can; alas, utilize, it cannot be disputed that quite as important as the vision of an artist who swings a nation from goal to goal, is the man-power with which the vision is reached and passed on the way to the next.  Towards the man-power of America Jewry contributes only that which it catches in its own sweatshops, as in so many rat-traps - set by itself.  It seems to be part of the Jew's unwritten code that he should never work.  Unless something happens to change his vision, I venture to add that he never will, either. 



[22]  Since writing these lines I have realized the unsoundness of the thought which underlies them.  At no time have the goyim held against us the few honest contributions which Jews have made to the arts in Europe.  Russia has never thrown at the heads of Jews any of the statues of Antokolsky.  Nor has any Englishman tried to stop a Jew's mouth with one of the drawings of Jacob Epstein.

[23]  Swinburne wrote his lustful Dolores to her and posed with her in a photograph which the British Museum will let you look at if you can show the librarian a doctor's certificate.

[24]  Dickens kept his word.  The "character" he eventually produced was good alright, but outside of his name he had no Jewish qualities by which he might be recognized as a Jew.