The Role of Israel Zangwill

HUGH S. EAYRS February 1 1915

The Role of Israel Zangwill

HUGH S. EAYRS February 1 1915

The Role of Israel Zangwill


THE worth of literary achievement, what it is, would make a nice discussion for a debating club. We live in an age when everybody writes. The commercial traveler, going to and fro from Halifax to Victoria, finds time and opportunity to write fiction.

The parson, resting from his labors, takes a morning or two to set forth his views on more mundane subjects than those on which he descants from a pulpited eminence.

The actor finds in his experiences meat for the mental avidity of the multitude.

Even the tramp, on some scraps of newspaper, pencils the incidents of his luxurious cara vagabondage; and hies him to the publisher. In this year of our Lord, one thousand nine hundred and fifteen, everybody is aflame to write. In fact, it is a heart-breaking ambition !

In a sense, too, we live in a time when everybody can write—somehow. The wouldbe author needs not nowadays to let his hair grow to shaggy lengths. It is no sign of his trade. Dirty linen and ragged velvet coats are no longer the hall-marks of the genuine man of letters. That is past. We live in a splendid orgy of respectability.

You may be sitting next to an author in a street-car and be unaware of the privilege!

But while everybody does write and everybody can write, few, comparatively, combine action with it.

Paradoxically enough, that writing is most worth while which is sacrificed to action.

The man who sits down and dashes off a blood-curdling novel has his own public, and his own fame. But the man, who, while he could write light and purposeless stuff, yet gives himself to the mission of writing and doing at one and the same time, in one and the same cause—he is doing the better day’s work. Very obviously, the doer has really the best things to say. The dynamic of action plays havoc with ideas in order that they may be clearly defined, made crisp and useful. The vapid gives place to the solid; the empty to the full when saying is made intimately relative and relevant to doing and being. Israel Zangwill is a case in point He started out by writing books which were in their wisdom and wit sheerly delightful. But that did not satisfy him. His mission now is to

find a place for his own people to lay their heads. He is engaged upon finding the Jew a country. And, because he is busy with that, when he does write, what he has to say, while it retains all the old charm of the younger Zangwill, is permeated and satiated by the purpose, the character, the determination and the experience of the Man of Action.


TAKE him first as a writer. Israel Zangwill has become years ago the singer in Israel in more senses than one He was born in England half a century back of parents themselves without a country. His father was a Russian Jew, and a fugitive from .a Russian military prison.

His mother had been born in Poland, although she was really of Spanish descent. Israel and his brothers and sisters had a hard time of it. There is that in his books which would tell you so. But he won through; out-distanced his fellow-pupils at the famous Jewish Free School in Whitechapel, and gained triple honors at London University. He became a teacher but always he knew where his ambition lay. Nor did it o’erleap itself. He got into journalism, and soon arrived where he was to stay—at the top.

From the first, his books dealt with the people of whom he himself is one. There is something peculiarly fitting in this spectacle of a man defending valiantly, yet never rabidly, his own people, who, in many of their traits, he so little resembles. He first came to art as a Touchstone. Literary prophets might have been forgiven had they forecast for Zangwill a fame which was that of a masterjester. You will go a long way in modern or even classical English literature before you come across such a wealth of delightful entertainment as Zangwill ofered. We have come in our time to trifle a good deal with words. There is a fashion in words. One of the petted is “brilliant.” We say a writer is “brilliant.” If it means sheerly scintillating, ravishingly resplendent, colossally clever, then Zangwill—in the colloquialism of our time is brilliant. It is difficult to find anywhere such a blend of real hearty fun and prodigious wit as may be discovered between the covers of “The Premier and the Painter,” or “The King of the Schnorrers.” Here is a punster in excelsis; a Rabelaisian roysterer; a Prince of Punchinellos. And even in his very earliest stages, Zangwill was never merely humorous if he was sheerly humorous. There was some purpose behind his fun. He was never a clown though he was often a clever jester. But cap and bells have ever been the sign of wisdom. Surely the wisest of Shakespeare’s characters were his Fools? King Lear came to find it so. Zangwill rollicked and frolicked because by so doing he could attract attention for the earnest things he had to say. He has declared his creed, with regard to the professional funmaker: “To start anything exclusively

funny,” he says, “is a serious mistake,” which is a paradoxical epigram worthy of his compeer Chesterton. He follows out his belief in the judicious admixture of wit and wisdom in “Without Prejudice.” In parts of this book there is a veritable orgy of fun, but ever and anon, it is punctuated, pulled up short, by a startlingly serious assertion or question. And vice

For lurking behind and round about his fun, was the serious purpose of making his countryman understood of men. It will be conceded that in the literatures of the world, we have been wickedly unfair to the Jew. Our biggest authors have misrepresented the Hebrew. Take Shakespeare for instance. So far as his teaching is concerned, you may take your choice, if you want a portrait of the Jew, between Sir John Falstaff, the merry rogue and outlaw, and Shylock, the embodiment of all that was crafty, all that was hard, all that was mercilessly cruel. When you have read Zangwill’s “They That Walk in Darkness,” or “Dreamers of the Ghetto” you begin to understand that Shakespeare was sadly wide of the mark when he represented the Jew as a being who might claim kinship with fellow-humanity only because he happened to have the same organs and the same senses. No wonder that Mr. Shaw rails at Shakespeare, and says that the Immortal Bard sometimes wrote without his book.

Even our beloved Dickens erred greatly in this regard, just as he did in his description of the Nonconformist parson. Let us not be fearful of speaking our minds.

Stiggins never was a generic type of FreeChurch minister. He was the exception; not the rule.

Dickens was cruelly unjust in his delineation. And Fagin never was the type of the Hebrew majority. He was a type of the Hebrew minority. Dickens must have recognized this, for much later than his “Oliver Twist” he gave us a description of a .Jew as sadly wide of the mark inasmuch as it made him a paragon of all the virtues as the portrait of Fagin was because he appeared as the personification of all the vices. We have never had—till this present—a fair-

minded, unblushing, impartial description of a Jew which could rank as standard. Shakespeare was wrong because he was not a Jew, and had never mixed with Jews. And Dickens erred from the same cause.

But Zangwill has told the truth. He has been able to, first, because he is a Jew, and, secondly, because he has a super-abundant talent for appreciating humor, and yet a remarkably strong sense of fact. His aim was to show that while there was no distinction on the common ground of humanity between Jew and Christian, there was a difference. Observe his fairness. He gives us a convincing portrait of his compatriots, seeing the good and the bad in equally bright light. He sees where the Jew is to blame, and where he should be praised. He sees all these things, and he records them in his delineatory studies with scrupulous and sedulous fairness. And he sees that it is by reason of the fact that the Jew has the same virtues, and the same vices, and the same lovable and attractive side and the same hatred and repelling side to his nature as the Christian, that the Jew and the Christian are one in a common humanity. That is his point, and he proves it abundantly. In brief, Zangwill took the historic facts of the enternal tragedy of his race, and re-stated them in their spiritual and therefore their highest truth. His supreme achievement is that he took the old tragedy, and looked at it in the light of modern civilization, and set out to put public opinion right when and where it was wropg.


SO FAR we have considered Zangwill as a writer, a writer with a distinct and definite purpose in his writings. But the giving to a world of a right idea in place of a wrong, even though it was so absorbing a task because it was one near and dear to his heart, did not suffice for Israel Zangwill. He had in him the passion of the reformer and the divine fire of the missionary. He wanted to be a practical helper of his own people. The way lay ready to his feet. The emigration of the Jew from Europe to America has been going on for decades, but up to

a certain point in a disorderly, unmethodical, haphazard sort of way. The Jew has no country. There has never, until these later years, been a proper attempt to provide him with one. It has, however, been taken up, and with some success. There have been, in brief, three agents. One was the Zionist Movement, which has for its end the re-establishment of the Jew in Palestine. The second is the Jewish Colonization, and the third the Jewish Territorial Organization. Of this latter, Mr. Zangwill is President. Its purpose—unlike that of the Zionists—is severely practical. It is to see that Jews shall make their home in the places provided for them, working towards the end of an autonomous territory, where they may work out their own salvation, make their own laws, have regard to their own national faiths and creeds and tenets, and grow up into a free community secure from a good deal of the contempt which now attaches to the Jew simply because of his nationality. So far it has been a case of foundation work. Cyrenaica and Angola have been inquired into by a Commission as a possible Jewish HomelandTo-Be. Zangwill’s view is best explained in his own words:—

“The territory, chosen for the concentration of our emigration must be of such a nature that, provided the masses emigrate to it, nothing but their own fault shall prevent its growing up into a Jewish homeland. Dirt has been defined as only matter in the wrong place. That which in the house is mud, is, in the field outside, beautiful soil. If the Jew has been treated as dirt, it is because he has drifted into somebody else’s house instead of remaining soil for his own fruits. Since the days of Pharaoh—as we have seen—the Jewish problem has come from the multiplcation of the Jew in the wrong place. Let this multiplication but take place on the right soil and under the right conditions, and instead of creating a Jewish problem it creates a Jewish country. ‘Lest they multiply!’ That is the dread, not only of Pharaoh, but of our Jews themselves, in London, in New York, in Paris, in Berlin, and ‘Scatter the Jews’ has long been their one scheme of salvation. While the followers of other faiths say that their faith must be spread abroad, the Jews say that not their faith but they must be spread abroad. This is an idea so opposed to the common sense of mankind, which knows that union is strength, and that safety lies in numbers, that it is the best evidence of the mental malady that results from having no roots in a soil of your own. In ITOland we shall not say ‘Lest they multiply!” but ‘Let them multiply!’ ”

There has been considerable discussion as to the possibility of the scheme ever attaining fruition. Strangely enough, the only opposition has come from some wealthy Jews themselves, who have either displayed apathy or rank antipathy, and the President of the ITO—that is, the Jewish Territorial Organziation—has spoken strongly on the subject of the neglect of the wealthy and educated Jew as to the comfort of the lowlier classes. He Continued on Page 88.

The Role of Israel Zangwill

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has not minced words; that is not Zangwill’s way. He wants to see the Jew have a home, and a country, and the distinctive and definite comfort which accrues to the man who is of an honored nationality. He wants to see the Jew build up his own new Canaan, his new Promised Land. He is tired, on behalf of his fellow-countrymen, of the years of wandering in the wilderness. Moreover, he has reason or his side. As he says, union is strength As long as the Jew is scattered here anc there and everywhere, all over a world kicked from pillar to post, he cannot sue ceed as an individual unit of an honorée nation. It is by standing together thaï the vision of a nation of whom its owi sons shall be proud will be realized.

Meanwhile, until that day comes, the ITO has done much to help how and when it could. It has given practical assistance to hundreds of Jews who have hailee America and Canada as their new home land pro tem. Their convenience whei traveling, their comfort upon landing and their chances of success in thei: adopted country are all contributed to b; the ITO. America, of course, is looked ti by most wandering Israelites. And in thi connection, mention must be made of Mi Zangwill’s wonderful play “The Meltinj Pot” wherein is pictured America, “God’ Crucible, The Great Melting-Pot, wher all the races of Europe are melting am reforming.” Surely from the point o human appeal few dramatic efforts hav ever excelled Mr. Zangwill’s great plaj Jew and Christian, both in America am Europe, have hailed with thankfulnes the pen which could depict so surely am so truly the continent where a man ma have “another chance.”

Zangwill, prophet, litterateur, workei wit, is doing a good day’s work for Go and man, particularly the Jew-man. I he had done nothing more than put o; record for all time a true portrait of on of the most fascinating types of humai ity, his life would not have been lived i vain.

The patriotism of Israel Zangwill surely of the highest order.