For Zion’s Sake
LL HANDS—INCLUDING THE frightened Reform Jews—agree that I can help,” Ludwig wrote Spiro from St. Louis on January 22, disparaging those among his audience whom he judged to be the more assimilated and, therefore, the more hesitant to assert their Jewishness.1 On the thirtieth, Thelma joined Ludwig in Los Angeles, leaving Jim at home with Spiro.2 Ten days later, on February 9, Ludwig wrote Spiro from San Francisco that Thelma (“lucky girl!”) would be returning home the following day. “What good times we have had.” Thelma’s joining him after two weeks on the road was a treat not previously enjoyed. Equally pleasurable, apparently, was his success at moving audiences toward a stronger Zionist stance. He particularly welcomed the opportunity to take on an outspoken anti-Zionist rabbi who had publicly criticized him. “I’ve delivered a blow for Zionism in L.A. and came here to do the same in the midst of a spectacular controversy. Irving Reichert, Rabbi of Emanuel, a die-hard assimilationist, has written a pamphlet against me and tonight I shall speak for our group here. So you see!”3
By February 18, Ludwig’s slow and circuitous return eastward had brought him to Milwaukee. The following day he spoke before the Zionist leader Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver’s congregation in Cleveland, and then moved on to Detroit for a talk on the twentieth.4 “I’m more than ‘gaga’ from people,” he wrote Thelma from his hotel room in Washington, D.C., a few nights later. After another talk and a weekend of rest, he was to travel the East Coast to Roanoke, Norfolk, and Richmond (where he would have “the privilege of occupying the pulpit of the Conservative Synagogue … and urging the people to be true to our people and its faith”)5 before making a return visit to his old home of Charleston after an absence of nearly two decades. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, a leading Zionist since his conversion to the cause during the Great War, had been anxious to meet with Ludwig before he left Washington, recognizing Ludwig’s increasingly important role in Jewish affairs. Yet, while the tour had been designed for such concerns, the upcoming journey to Charleston held greater significance for him, with its talks not only before that city’s Council of Jewish Women, but at the South Carolina Poetry Society “and for the students at the old College at Chapele … a thing I can’t refuse Randolph and [Lancelot] Harris.” Several weeks had now passed since Thelma had left him in San Francisco, and the impending journey to his childhood home seemed only to add to his emotional exhaustion. With the strain evident in his uneven and broken handwriting, he admitted to Thelma, “My heart is rather down at the thought of Charleston and memories of my parents, olav ha-shalom [Rest in Peace]! I wish to God you could be with me. But then—we must do what we can. The thought of you and Jim will warm and console me. You are life—my life. How my mother would have adored you both.” Alone with his thoughts and the many miles back in time yet to travel, he told her of his having begun “to count the days until we are reunited,” before asking that she “kiss Jim and let me kiss you long and deep and close.”6
The year before Ludwig’s return to Charleston, the News and Courier had published a lengthy biographical sketch of his early years, including memories of those still resident in the city. They recalled a “sallow-faced, introspective Jew, unathletic, short, inclined to be flabby … [possessed] of a brilliant mind; a slightly aloof boy, but reasonably well liked and not unfriendly,” who “shook the dust of the South off his boots and went out into the world to make his fortune.” Having followed his career, the editors were certain that this old, stately city and its environs had “left their marks upon his soul,”7 unaware of his near rejection of so much of what had once been sacred to him, his life having turned elsewhere for validation and fulfillment. The journey to his past now served only to emphasize how far he had traveled in the years since first leaving for New York. More than feelings of sadness, his retracing of this earlier life had left him further resolved to put even greater distance between the person he had been and the one he had worked so long and so hard to become. Charleston, of course, still held its place in the balance of his life, but in the perspective of this moment, he looked on with some astonishment at how little he now felt for the world that had played so central a role in his becoming who he would always be.
I visited the various houses in which I once lived yesterday. The lower city in which they all were is compact. I expected to “emote” more sharply. I watched myself. Just a tinge of melancholy. No more. Because that life (except for the love I bore my parents, olav hashalom) was in all its circumstances and to its very core not a true life, not my life. My life, my true life began when I found my people and my God and you. These realities are my only realities and hence the shadowy almost pantomimic life before, full as it seemed of ardor and of power, has now assumed for me its true character of shadowiness and hollowness.… So soon as Jimmie is old enough and sits at table with us we will usher in and out the sabbath and, if you don’t mind, abstain in our house from the forbidden foods—swine and shell-fish.
He had arrived in Charleston “pretty hoarse … from too much lecturing and draughty cars,” but Thomas Tobias brought him to a physician whose care revived his voice, enabling him “to do my duty and earn my additional stipend from the Council of Jewish Women.”8 On March 2 he addressed the Poetry Society on “The Changing Novel,”9 and then spent the next two days visiting with old teachers. “Dear old Della Torre … is giving a stag luncheon party for me,” he wrote Thelma, telling her how Harris had dined with him on each of the two nights, and of his visit with Ellen Fitzsimmons, “quite eighty now and very feeble but with a mind clear and strong.” Ludwig found it “very touching” how she and Harris, like della Torre, had felt the need to state “that they have justified their lives by having been the teachers and guides of my boyhood and youth and are, so to speak, technically learned in the entire canon of my works and discuss them comparatively, quoting at each other chapter and verse.”10
How dismayed Ludwig would have been to have read Harris’s letter to Randolph in August 1934, in which he wrote, “Apart from the excitement and very serious interest in the political situation, I have had a sudden recrudescence of the love of all things German.” Or to have learned of Harris’s envying Randolph’s attendance at the anti-Semitic Oberammergau Festival, to which Harris had added, “The Germans are really a good people, and I feel that I understand their present impulses and their readiness to accept and adore a Fuhrer.”11 In his final talk before the college, Ludwig attacked those who would oppose humanity by engineering a new society without even a nod toward “the garnered wisdom of man contained in philosophy.” Before a crowd too thick to allow even one more into the room, he spoke of “Modern Civilization” and of those like Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, and their apologists who “are casting aside knowledge of ancient tradition and are starting out on a wholly mechanical civilization … disregarding memory, or history,” those things which “are important in that they serve to balance technique.”12
Ludwig’s brief stay in Charleston left a lasting impression upon those who saw him, as he had and would wherever he spoke. Twenty-six years after attending his chapel address, a former student familiar then with Ludwig’s earlier references to Charleston, but unaware of the changes that had occurred in his feelings toward his old home, recalled “a handsome leonine figure of a man who spoke with the majesty and clarity of a classical writer—a manner which seemed to me, as a young student, to have some kind of paradoxical relationship to the emotional intensity of his writings about his early days in Charleston.”13 The News and Courier similarly reported, on March 6, 1936, how he had been “applauded long and heartily” by people happy to see their city’s guest no longer speaking disparagingly of his boyhood home, and even promising to return with his family within the year.14
Thelma had asked Ludwig if she might now join him again, but he dissuaded her, seeing little point in her traveling all the way to Miami, his next stop, for a stay of only two days. After speaking on behalf of the United Palestine Appeal, he would be coming home, having already turned down several invitations to go on for the Zionists. “I had to say: No, I’m going home; I’m human too; I’m tired to the bone and have a wife and child.” They needed the money, but he needed the rest and “some sort of success with creative work again.” He counseled patience, there being but six scheduled days left. “Meantime in my mind and imagination, but, oh, so powerfully and vividly, I take you in my arms and kiss you, kiss you, Angel, till your breath fails and mine.”15
But Thelma’s patience had thinned by now. At Ludwig’s urging, Wise had arranged for her to sing at the American Jewish Congress and a concert at his synagogue, though he hoped to find a more prominent showcase for her talent.16 When his efforts led instead to a date at Town Hall, she responded angrily, if not with evidence of emotional instability, that “all we desire from your esteemed highness is the use of Synagogue House, and that you will announce it from the pulpit. Is that too much to ask?”17 In a rare display of anger toward her, Wise had responded that April was “fine for the synagogue, or for Carnegie Hall!”18 We can only guess the fury that awaited Ludwig upon his arrival in Burlington after more than two months on the road, having reversed his earlier decision not to accept the additional lecture invitations, only days after explaining that until Trumpet of Jubilee was completed, he could not help with the lyrics to a song they had once worked on together.19
Thelma’s own sense of Ludwig’s frustration at this same moment was, undoubtedly, minimal. “I’ve travelled 30–35,000 miles and spoken from Winnipeg to New Orleans, from Los Angeles to Miami and back to Toronto and all the places between and I’ve earned somewhat less than 3500 dollars,” he wrote Canfield on March 30. With so little left after expenses, he was again being forced to find some additional income, “just how or where I don’t yet know.” All of which meant that despite his plan of two difficult months of touring, followed by six to work undisturbed on the novel, there remained “no certainty how or when I can have that continuous tranquility which I need for creative work.” The book had already “grown enormously in my mind,” since he had discovered in his travels “that people of all kinds are waiting for a novel.” He was anxious to set to work, yet refused to take an advance from Harpers, given the state of his “accounts” with them. “Some day you’ll be able to publish ‘The Case of Mr. Crump’ and that will at least square our accounts,” he promised Canfield. In the meantime, he would find some consistent income from journalism, “a weekly column or a monthly article,” before he dared to assure anyone of the delivery “of a work of the imagination. That’s rather melancholy, but it’s true.”20 Given Ludwig’s recent sales history and the deep Depression economy in which Harpers was operating, it was unlikely that he would have been given an advance if he had asked. These were indeed precarious times for publishers and authors. The year before, Cerf had declined to publish a book Ludwig had recommended because “The chance of coming out whole on the book would be an exceedingly remote one.” Though the work was worthy of publication, he would have to pass it by, having “done so many things in the past two years simply on a prestige basis.”21
Canfield was disappointed to learn of this probable delay in receiving the manuscript, but wrote Ludwig “I appreciate your problem.” He, on the other hand, hoped that Ludwig appreciated his. “I have not only been looking forward to seeing it because of my interest in the project, but, also, the financial situation is such that we are disturbed—greatly disturbed—at having the debit balance stand on our books indefinitely.” Acknowledging the possibility of one day publishing Crump, Canfield offered the usual terms together with the provision of charging “said royalty against your debt to us,” though he was uncertain as to the status of an American copyright, while believing that such a publication, given Mary’s hand in all of this, was in any case “many years off.” To soften the sharpness of his tone, Canfield added a more personal note. “It seems a shame to allow too long a time to elapse between creative books from your pen.”22
No one would have agreed with this more than Ludwig, who had, without Canfield’s knowledge, begun to work on the “Prologue” to Trumpet two days earlier. He was now committed to the book, and would not hold back. “If there is anything I loathe it is change, breaking, leaving,” he wrote Canfield on April 11. To these curious words he added parenthetically, “That’s the reason I bore with Anne Crump so long,”23 as if he still needed to forgive himself.
Ludwig must certainly have been relieved to learn from Wise on March 31 that arrangements were being made “for a concert with your verbal accompaniment.”24 He and Thelma were to appear on April 26, a Sunday afternoon program of songs and a talk “on whatever subject you prefer.” Thankful for the help Wise had once again provided, Ludwig assured him of a splendid afternoon. “How fine and handsome of you to arrange for the recital. But you’ll not be sorry. When Thelma’s good she’s awfully good. That’s the reason I support her in her work. I wouldn’t, much as I love her, if she weren’t really and truly (as they saw in Boston) a credit to us all.”25
Without a guaranteed supplemental income, Ludwig and Thelma looked to such engagements to pay for their needs, not all of which, however, were absolutely necessary, including the housekeeper and the used car, “second-hand, but comfortable,” with which they offered to pick up the Wises for an overnight stay in Burlington.26 After years of poverty and hardship, Ludwig had grown accustomed to a level of material comfort in Paris which had become essential, in his view of life. He made no apology for either his possessions or his desire for these services.
In fact, as an expression of each individual’s inner self, the “things” of one’s life and their acquisition, in the light of recent political movements, had taken on a somewhat sacred quality, almost as if self-denial were blasphemous. “Property in its true and original sense and motivation is neither negative or competitive; it is protection and warmth and security,” he wrote in “A Defense of the Acquisitive Instinct,” published that April in Forum. Rather than seeing property as “theft,” Ludwig believed “the relation between the possessor and his possession [to] be profound and organic, image and altar, symbol of expression, dignity, worship.” All cultures demonstrated that “man deserves to possess what he needs” physically and, more importantly, spiritually. “The things that our acquisitive instinct has led us to acquire are more, far more, than things. They are expressions; they are poetry and confessions of faith; they are the necessary outer symbols of crucial inner facts.” To those who would object, he cautioned against the fallacy of drawing an inference from abuse. Condemning the wealth that causes poverty, Ludwig spoke in defense of “the case of him who builds up within moderate limitations by the exercise of creative choices a material house of life which is in every detail and in its deferred totality a symbol of himself—of his sanctities and repudiations, his memories and hopes, his variation from his ancestors and fellows, his aspirations for his posterity.”
Conservative and radical alike were confused, he asserted, unable to “interpret experience” except through the lenses of “Utopian nightmares of either the ‘rightist’ or the ‘leftist’ variety … oblivious of the very existence of a center.” It was at this center, at the meeting place of all individuation, “the separatism of individuals from the mere clotted tribal mass,” that humane civilization arose out of barbarism. Yet today, he warned, the process was being dangerously reversed. “All the barbaric neo-Utopias of this age, black or brown or red, have as their avowed object and if not as their avowed object as their practical aim—an aim carried out with every device of cruelty and terror—the destruction of individuation, the melting down of men into a mass of robots or warriors or ants.” Even where acquisitiveness was not outrightly condemned, the “creative instinct,” this individuating need for self-expression, was under fire and in need of defense, demanding acts of “heresy of some sort and the exercise of the acquisitive instinct … [as] instruments of human individuation.” Without such a struggle, without victory over these forces of “barbarism,” there would be no civilization “human and humanly interesting.” “In a Utopia where none can believe what he likes and none can buy what he needs, where he can neither have an individual character nor express that character through the symbolic vestiture of his life—in such a Utopia men may, when it is perfected, lead lazy, well-fed lives. But, in such an eventuality they will either lapse into idiocy or die of boredom.”27
Ludwig, of course, knew that the stakes were higher, that the consequences were far more deadly for those who could not assume their unindividuated role within the “clotted tribal mass” now under formation to the left and right of him. For all of its overambitiousness and lack of focus, Trumpet was ultimately a darkening vision of the future and the sounding of a final note of doom. He would first draw a picture of an increasingly pluralistic America, only to find it compromised in 1941 by a defensive war against Japanese attack and the subsequent need to aid the Soviets in their fight against Nazi Germany, and ultimately dashed in the conflict that would break out between the Soviets and the Americans, a third world war that was to destroy Western civilization itself. Only memories of the past would survive the cataclysm and the darkening age to follow. And as these centuries would pass, these same follies would be repeated, man being only man.
For all the things that had happened in the story were beginning once more, as the years and ages passed, to happen to them. In spite of all their inborn horror of rule and force and their sure knowledge of this one thing, of no other, that the giants of olden times who had built the great cities and the great roads and the unimaginable tunnels and bridges had written the thousand, thousand books, now buried under ruins—that these giants had destroyed all they had built by wars among each other growing out of the oppression and rule of man over man; in spite of their deep knowledge of this thing, it began to happen in the selfsame way among them, too.
“Once more dark shadows clouded the souls of men,” Ludwig projected into his futuristic scene. “The joyous life of the roads dwindled” as men relinquished their freedom for the promise of “huge rewards,” made to them “by the king of the realm of the Mouths of the Rhine, a huge, white-skinned, shock-headed man with the bones of an ox and the forehead of an ape.” Proclaiming himself and his men “better and braver than any on earth,” the king would march “southward and conquer all the other kingdoms” down to the Middle Sea, in order to “introduce right rule and strict order where there were now but sloth and arbitrariness and unmanly pleasure.” A lone voice, “a small, lithe, dark-bearded man” holding one of the ancient scrolls, would ultimately come forth to oppose him, declaring, “It is written, ‘God dies wherever men, deeming themselves gods, become devils,’” whereupon the king would slay him with his spear as “the king’s blond warriors bellowed with laughter.”28
If there was to be any breaking of the cycle, it would come not as a result of man’s effort, but of woman’s. Ludwig had given up all hope of a change of heart in those who ruled. “It was a woman’s matter,” the spreading of the truths contained in the ancient teachings of the B’nai Yisrael, that “law of God that freed men from obedience to other men and from law.” “Men had no part in it, though man would be redeemed too if the miracle came to pass.” Redemption would be prepared by Malkha, who came “from a very far country on the eastern edge of the great desert” and “quietly … went to the women and spoke to them by day and whispered to them by night,” sharing “the secret of freedom which was God’s law.” With Malkha at their head, thousands of women with their children made pilgrimage in search of that distant place, and in early fall came upon a gathering of these Children of Israel at the moment when “the final sounding of the ram’s horn at the conclusion of the Day of Atonement is heard.” The “Trumpet of Jubilee” sounded and the pilgrims, witnessing this act, repeated after Malkha, “Bear us the Christ again!” in search, as in centuries past, of the Messiah for the Gentiles.29
Yet it was more a trumpet of warning and despair than of jubilee, with the reader left to reflect not on the future but, given the obvious parallels of that age, upon the present. The fate of Europe’s Jews, portrayed by him with startling detail in Book One, “Burning World,” now seemed inevitable. With uncanny prescience, Ludwig drew together his darkest visions and most unfounded hopes. “A luminous outline hides a core of darkness,” he wrote in the book’s “Prologue” that April. “I have held converse in more than one city and, in fact, on more than one continent … in Boston and Hamburg, in New York and in Constantine, in San Francisco and Jerusalem,” he related in the narrator’s voice, and each time the same concerns had been expressed over the fate of humanity. He possessed, having added “glimpse to glimpse and detail to detail … [a] mind open to the strangeness and terror of this day in history … allied to immemorial trends … hammered into this shape by no other age, by no other world save this twentieth century world.” Such a world he had hoped “with an inveterate passion to shatter into dust and re-create after an image that burned with an unfaltering flame within his heart.”30 Above all, he feared the social revolutionary vision that argued, beyond all evidence and reason to the contrary, that
in order to establish a new order, any new order, certain very deeply rooted notions and reactions of men would have to be eliminated. But since these historic reactions and ideas were concretely embodied in people, in people too stupid and too slothful to change, it was necessary to eliminate these people themselves. By execution. By starvation. By exile to waste places. By the destruction of morale and physical stamina in labor camps. This he said had been and was the method of the proletarian revolution and would necessarily be more or less the method of any radical revolution in modern times, whether this radicalism was rightist or leftist. The point, he explained, was that in either case the entire historic civilization, especially in respect of its religious, moral and so-called idealistic aspects, would have to be exterminated in the persons of its representatives so that the generations left would blend into the new ideology and its complete integration with the state, be it a proletarian and egalitarian state or not, without inner resistance, anti-social longings or confusing memories. Thus and thus only could a new order and the new state as an expression of that order be secure.31
Ludwig saw little chance of effective resistance against such barbarism. People were not motivated unless threatened. Until then, they might well condemn such actions against others but would be unlikely participants in their rescue. Even the image of this belated resistance seemed woefully inadequate to the task soon to be faced by men of goodwill, Jew and Christian. Confronted with this revolutionary process, “they rose slowly but at the same unpremeditated instant … and like sleep-walkers, unseeing yet unerring, approached each other until they were face to face. Then at last they lifted their lids and looked into each other’s eyes and clasped hands in silence and arm in arm with no look backward walked forth from that accursed place.”32
If Ludwig intended to leave some hopefulness among his readers when the “Prologue” appeared in Opinion in the fall of 1936, he would do his best to shatter it by the time he concluded the tale in January 1937. Completing his introduction on April 8 after a brief two weeks of writing,33 he would be unable to return to the remainder of the work until June, at first by design, and then because of circumstance. The Passover holiday and the weeks following that culminated in the celebration of Shavuot, the commemoration of God’s revelation of the Law to Moses, proved central to Ludwig’s otherwise poorly conceived volume as he labored to draw several creative elements together. Perhaps he realized the disparate nature of its parts, and hoped to find the cohesiveness it needed through the those essential truths which lay behind “the myth of Moses … being reenacted year by year.”
To him as to the poets of his own and the preceding age the great difficulty seemed to be that of form. But this he knew was only seeming. A great meaning would once more beget a great form. He was sure that he had the great meaning. History had given it into his hand.… So his great Jewish meaning, Gabriel told himself, was also a universal meaning. Only, would that meaning create a form for itself through him in the English language?… But he wanted that dense and vibrant and plastic form to be not art, but message and thought in great humbleness, yet with often a sudden incandescence in his heart, of the last nameless prophet who called himself maleach (messenger)… the herald and the baptist of a new Messiah.… He began to write down verses … and some of these verses, of a classical rhythmic order but of intensely personal variation with a sharp tang of diction and something of the cry and call of the initial verbs of Hebrew word-order, were embodied without revision in the later form.34
Nowhere else in his writings would Ludwig speak so openly of his purpose or process. Yet, for all of his determination to push on after the “Prologue,” personal problems and other work once again disrupted his plans. Mary suddenly chose to intensify her fight to wrest a financial settlement from him, perhaps out of fear of advancing age and the prospect of dying without ever finding the justice to which she believed herself entitled. Ludwig had enjoyed a pleasant Passover, remarking to Wise that Jim, now two and a half years old, had fallen asleep during the long Seder evening.35 But a week later, he and Thelma were in New York for their appearance at Wise’s Free Synagogue, a chance for her to demonstrate her artistry and for him to increase his funds for the writing ahead.
In early May, still mapping his way through the story, Ludwig sent a note of thanks to a writer whose article, “To a Communist Friend,” had proven supportive in the struggle to define his own moral and political stance. Trumpet, he feared, would again bring the often repeated charge of “reactionary and even Fascist,” though by his own accounting he was a democratic socialist, supporting those values, labeled bourgeois, which gave life to this stance in the world. “You are, of course, incomparably better instructed and more experienced in these matters than I am and to realize that every word you write (including the affirmation of your Socialism) mir aus dem Herzen gesprochen ist, will be a source of permanent intellectual comfort to me.”36
Briefly taking to the road again to further build his treasury, Ludwig spoke in Bridgeport, Connecticut, on May 11, and in the quiet of his hotel room that evening, thought back on his early years, his fifty-fourth birthday now approaching. “In my old sterile days bleakly I stood / In a garret room and saw your sacred head / blanch desolately to an alien death,” began his poetic confession.
Outside October mocked with flame of bronze
And play of blue as in that icy marsh
Whence we had strayed from God’s appointed place?
We did not die our death nor live our life,
Estranged from both; yet deep spoke unto deep
Wordless between us with a hard, crushed grief.
He had spent years seeking a way to “bring us home,” searching for the proper words to “cry out”—but “I knew no words.” At last, he had found the voice to express both his anguish and his need to memorialize his mother through his attempt to awaken and save his people. “Now I say Kaddish with my life,”37 he wrote again, repeating the phrase several times, as if it were a signpost for the journey ahead.
In recognition of his efforts within the Jewish world over the past dozen years, and as a means of promoting their newly granted charter, the Jewish People’s University and Teachers Seminary chose to honor Ludwig, “one of the most distinguished spokesmen for intellectual American Jewry,” with a Ludwig Lewisohn Testimonial Dinner scheduled for June 7. He was to address those gathered on the subject of “A Jewish University in the United States,” his remarks to be published in the general and Jewish press throughout the country, as well as broadcast within the New York area. Returning from Bridgeport with larger issues on his mind, he advised the dinner committee that he would speak instead on the question “Can Jewish Culture Survive in America?” which he felt able to address from firsthand observation. Begun eighteen years earlier as a school of Jewish education, the seminary had expanded into an institution of wider scope, placing the curriculum of general higher education into a Jewish context while adding new areas of Jewish studies to its programs. Given its broadening focus, Ludwig’s change of topic seemed quite appropriate. In letters of invitation sent to “every element of New York Jewry,” the committee identified their honored guest “as a spokesman for American Jewish culture [who] has himself done so much towards the revitalization and strengthening of Jewish life in this country.”38
Suddenly and unexpectedly, Ludwig received news five days later of Mary’s intent to file an alienation of affection suit against Thelma, and a second suit against him for adultery. Thelma’s property had already been attached in partial payment of the ten thousand dollars Mary was now demanding, though papers had not yet been served. “The irony of the banquet on the seventh,” he wrote Wise, distraught over this latest turn. “I’m at the end, Stephen. I’ve tried…. If this disgrace falls upon my dear wife and child, I cannot face life.” He was offering a countersettlement of five thousand dollars cash, and twelve hundred a year thereafter. He would, as he told Wise, have to borrow the five thousand from “some Jews [who] would lend me the money at 6% and let me repay gradually.”39
Ludwig did not expect Wise’s assistance in raising this money, as Wise himself had fallen from favor with many wealthy Jews since his attack upon their exploitation of workers three decades earlier. For cash he turned instead to several others, including Jacob Billikopf, a legendary fund-raiser in Jewish circles since the Great War, when, assuming leadership of the Joint Distribution Committee, he had raised millions to aid Jews starving in Eastern Europe. “I’m in terrible trouble,” Ludwig wrote him. The “fury” had found “unscrupulous lawyers” who were threatening to use “my Jimmie as evidence!” If the money was not raised over the next few days, the suit would go forward, causing a scandal in Burlington that would destroy them. “If this suit breaks, above all, here—I can’t survive it. Nor would it matter. With Thelma and our child disgraced and my usefulness gone and my spirit broken—what would be the use?” Ludwig had managed to save five thousand dollars over the past months, but it was needed to support them over the next half year. Could twenty-five hundred be raised as a loan “from Jews who don’t want me to perish at once?” he asked Billikopf. He would sign a note, pay interest, use his Jewish antiques as collateral, and, if need be, the house as well. “It’s literally a matter of life and death,” he added, imploring Billikopf to consult with Hays and Wise over these matters. Appealing to a centuries-old tradition, he asked Billikopf to “ransom us, for God’s sake…. The local lawyers want a show at our expense. Goyim, too.”40
Billikopf sought the opinion of Julian Mack, a U.S. circuit court justice and a leader in Zionist and general Jewish affairs, mentioning that Samuel Harris, a New York State Supreme Court justice, and Mack’s own former law clerk, Paul Cohen, “both think it is a hold up game, that Ludwig shouldn’t become hysterical.” They had advised Ludwig to obtain competent local counsel who would treat the threat as extortion.41 Mack’s own answer is lost, and Billikopf delayed his response, awaiting word from Wise.
Wise, in the meantime, had already sought legal assistance for Ludwig against “this pestilence,” as he informed his desperate friend on May 22.42 Ludwig, that day, had sent an appeal to Villard, explaining how Mary’s “persecution has assumed a new and more dreadful phase,” including the criminal charge under “antiquated Vermont laws” of adultery, “now after all these years.” He was already witnessing the strain such threats were causing, and predicted their consequences in grave detail. Should the papers be served, “I know that Thelma will have a complete nervous collapse (she’s not too well!) and that the horror of it will come between us, on top of all the other horrors.” He asked Villard to use his “high moral influence” as the Nation’s publisher to intercede on his behalf with Mary’s Wall Street attorney, John Kirkland Clark, who, unlike Ludwig’s own attorneys in Vermont, “notoriety-seekers, ruthless, anti-Semites,” was reputed to be ethical. Mary would receive all that had been promised him by “a group of friends in Chicago” (Louis Asher among them) and his remaining “few thousand dollars which were to be our support till the next lecture season.” He hoped that Mary, at seventy-three and with one hundred dollars a month from Harpers, could at last go “beyond hatred and persecution. Help me, no, help us—my innocent wife and child—if you can.”43
Neither Villard, Wise, nor Hays was able to stop Mary’s latest efforts, though a short delay was secured. Her lawyer assumed that the sale of Thelma’s house, and Ludwig’s anticipated increased ability to earn lecture fees once she withdrew her New York State complaints as a part of the settlement, would amply provide for the payment she was seeking.44 Hays advised Ludwig to be patient, that something positive would develop during this interim period. On June 9, Wise pledged a thousand dollars of his own to the Lewisohn loan fund, hoping that this would spur the other five who had promised equal amounts to send their checks.45 Together with the money that Ludwig had set aside for Trumpet, there would then be enough to settle Mary’s claim against him. Ludwig was confident now that the worst was behind him. The following day, he appealed to Billikopf, Asher, and the others, using Wise’s pledge as leverage.
“It is his example that will save me!” he wrote Hays that same morning, speaking of Wise not only as “a great leader and preacher but a great saint,” as would others who were recipients of his boundless caring.46 “By your noble and generous impulse you have saved us,” he then told Wise later that day. “You, more than anyone, need not be told of the psychological and moral elements involved…. All words of gratitude would be vain.” It was Ludwig’s hope that “by this liberation [from Mary], which will doubtless now be accomplished, my usefulness to our cause will be increased.” What had seemed the final blow appeared now to be a possible source of freedom.
“That usefulness and that opportunity for deeper devotion will be my thanks to you,”47 he concluded on June 10. By week’s end, Wise had promised Ludwig the position of secretary of the Zionist Organization of America, should he himself become its president. (Ludwig was by now vice president of the ZOA’s New England Zionist Region.) This, Wise explained, would provide an ample income.48 The next month, Wise spoke to him of the editorship of the New Palestine, and not merely for reasons of a salary (though clearly, Wise felt responsible to the other benefactors to find some means by which Ludwig could repay them). It was Wise’s belief that Ludwig would be willing to say what needed to be said.49 So, too, was Wise continuing to arrange lectures for him, one of which involved Thelma, who had cornered Wise after a concert that July. She thanked him for coming, and then asked to sing at the next lecture he would schedule for her husband. “We’ve been doing teamwork for fourteen years,”50 she added in a letter to Wise the next day, perhaps unaware that their bond had weakened through exhaustion.
Ludwig was simply worn out by her and Mary and Jim and the rest. Four years later, Ludwig would recall how “in 1936, life began to be so completely intolerable that I lost my way.”51 It had already begun to show when, during his tour the previous winter, he had visited an old Charleston acquaintance, now teaching at the University of Illinois. They had not seen one another for nearly thirty years. “My impression was that he had not changed at all from the Lewisohn of the High School playground or the Charleston College campus,” Harry Jones wrote Lancelot Harris on July 4, 1936. They had shared recollections, of visits to Jones’s home, of debates in college with Ludwig taking a “polarized” view, of his borrowing Jones’s copy of Henry James’s Golden Bowl without returning it. Jones had mentioned wanting someday to have “a long talk … about the fundamentals,” to which Ludwig had quickly remarked, “that’s all that counts.” Jones was saddened now, as he thought back on how his old classmate had appeared battered by the years. “Between you and me,” he offered Harris, “that child has been in hell, spending vacations no doubt in heaven.”52 So strong an impression had Ludwig left that Jones spoke of it again three years later, adding the observation that Ludwig’s fame had been achieved “at some cost, of course, to his peace of mind and to the sensibilities of others.”53
Perhaps it was inevitable. Ludwig had confessed to Villard in his plea for help that May that “I’ve never wanted to do other than live a normal life like other men with my own family and doing my own work.”54 But as Jones had told Harris, someone whose life had taken on “more than a personal or racial interest … [and] given us by and large a ‘Confession’… which we might shelve by the side of Rousseau” could not expect such a common experience.55 Purposefully blurring life into art and thought into act, Ludwig’s intent had never truly been to live “like other men,” no matter how intensely he may have at times wished he could have. The call of his imagination had been far too strong for that.
Even throughout the maddening days of Mary’s latest attack, Ludwig had somehow found it possible to work. As ideas began to flow, perhaps in defiance of her assault, he reversed his earlier decision and accepted the testimonial dinner committee’s original request to speak about an institution of higher Jewish learning. Thoughts similar to those he would express that evening had already played an important role in Trumpet. In his vision of a more culturally pluralistic America, such institutions would be established for each ethnic group as a means of self-expression. “Though we are all children of Adam, united in the deep ground-work of our being and the oneness of our fate,” Ludwig told those gathered in his honor on June 7, “yet men differ each from the other—in countenance, in specific character, in their emphases, in their judgments of value.… And, in truth, without these differences, which make the music of humanity in the exact sense polyphonic, this mortal scene would be unimaginably brutish and dull.”56 It was their duty as Americans and as Jews “to resist by all peaceful means blank and brutish uniformity,” to overcome what he saw as the “crisis of mankind’s life” in their times, not only in its most obvious and murderous forms, but “in the free democracies of the West [where] a subtle fear of liberty, which is nothing less than a fear of life itself, is numbing the souls and wills of many men.” A Jewish university would serve “as a watch-tower and symbol of the spiritual liberties of America and of mankind.”57 These were, he stressed, dangerous times, and contrary to those Jews who, with the fear of persecution “in our bones,” counseled a quiet, low-profile reaction to increasing anti-Semitism in America, Ludwig called for a bold response. With colleges representing so many Christian groups, why not one based upon the Jewish principles of sanctifying life and nature, of establishing justice as the basis for moral equilibrium in God’s world, and of replacing war and violence, “that chaotic pagan evil,” with peace, “our goal and dream”? Were these ideals not of equal merit to those upon which other sectarian institutions rested? “Surely it can be asserted serenely that the spirit of our prophets and sages is at least as harmonious with the spirit of America as that of Martin Luther and John Calvin.” Understandably, he continued, a long history of persecution had left the Jews a “frightened people.” And these frightening times were perhaps not the best in which to demand “equal, and not equivalent rights.” But little had ever been won by fearing the loss of half a loaf. We “have been made to eat the sour bread of toleration,” he argued. Who could better assume the challenge of protecting “the creative liberty of mankind?… Who needs and loves liberty and justice more than we?”58
Listening to Ludwig that June evening, few could have sensed the deeply seated fears that lay behind his exhortations to decisive and assertive action. But they were there, rooted in what he had been witnessing over the last dozen years, on two continents, within even the most progressive settings. When asked that summer by the Good Neighbor League to work in support of Franklin Roosevelt’s reelection, Ludwig used the opportunity to stress again the dangers of the hour and the need to raise, as FDR had, “the voice of humanity and civilization … against the scream and roar of rival fanaticisms.” Originating in Europe, these “blind reactionaries” and “ruthless Utopians” were now “beginning to raise that clamor among us too.” Roosevelt’s “serene voice” of reason and hope was needed, and Ludwig would add his energies to the reelection effort. “His defeat would be more than an unfortunate shift in administration. It would be a moral disaster for America and the world.” Those who accused the Roosevelt administration of left-wing radicalism were “those whose hands are stretched forth toward the evil pendulum that swings from one barbarous extreme to another,” willing to do whatever was necessary to assume power. “They will invent wilder and more menacing myths. Internal enemies will be found—defenseless minorities, whether racial or religious.” Fear will be engendered, passions will be inflamed, and demands will be heard that something be done about those who were endangering the country. “If all non-citizens were deported, if Jews and Negroes were ‘kept in their place,’ if, if…” would begin to fill the air and pollute the American body. “The men of the menacing Right and the fewer men among us of the menacing Left” had to be stopped by those Americans who were still “believers in liberty, democracy, peace, brotherhood, the Americans of all races and of all creeds and of all origins in whom the historical flame of America’s meaning and mission in the world has never perished.” Political rhetoric, certainly, but its ring of caution and alarm was clear, a cry to all “for the security of their liberties and the liberties of their children,” Jews included.59
Life for Ludwig slowly began to return to its more normal state as the summer wore on. New questions over old issues would surface, but they seemed to fall within the scope of expectations, not beyond it. Mary, despite having endorsed several checks now residing in the offices of Harpers, nevertheless claimed not to have received them. And Ludwig, though still confident of a favorable end, began once again to search for a portion of the cash he needed to set to work on Trumpet. He had approached Simon and Schuster in June with an offer of a future book in exchange for a loan of twenty-five hundred dollars. Richard Simon was in agreement with the proposal, but wanted first to have Canfield’s blessing. Given the declining sales of Ludwig’s books, Harpers was not unhappy with the prospect of losing their once profitable author, so long as their accounts would be settled. “Our only concern,” Canfield wrote Ludwig, “was to work out a difficult situation in the best possible way.”60
Canfield, however, had been prematurely cheered, apparently misperceiving the intent. Ludwig was quick to clarify his purpose in going to Simon with the offer, explaining that Mary had “black-mailed” him, “and this time successfully,” and that Simon had agreed to help by lending him a portion of the additional amount being extorted. Ludwig reminded Canfield that Harpers, too, remained “unable to get out of her clutches.… She’s beating us all by some strange fatality.” In better times, he would have gone to Harpers instead, he explained to Canfield. But not now, not with so great a debt between them and the need to use what money he could earn from Simon and Schuster to pay his daily expenses. “I must go on living and working,” he added in a slightly depressed mood. “The best that I can do is to repay the 1,000 advance on the new novel. It is evident that for the rest of the indebtedness you will have to be contented with my books.”61
Others had been, among them Martin Buber, with whom he was again exchanging volumes that summer. They had become friendly during Ludwig’s years in Europe, and their friendship had survived the separation of space and time. Not that Buber was without fault in Ludwig’s eyes. Wise had questioned his inclusion in a listing of great Jewish thinkers Ludwig had given a reporter while in Canada. Buber “writes in such [a] swollen and grandiose way, and with such an appalling self-consciousness,” Wise commented. “I hear the undertones, ‘I am such a handsome, wonderful, bearded, duplicate of Herzl—Hineni [Here I am]!’ Perhaps I am cruel, but that is my impression, that he is not original at all!”62 Ludwig, though in disagreement with Wise’s assessment of Buber’s contribution, believing his finest on a par with Maimonides’ Guide for the Perplexed or Halevi’s Kuzari, and his style as exquisite as Mann’s, did concur on the issue of his vanity. “Of course he’s vain,” he told Wise, before relating “a cute and authentic story” of tricking Buber into visiting him in Paris when Buber had wished the arrangements to favor himself. With an infant to care for and a household to pack, they could ill afford the time to go elsewhere in the days that remained before returning to the States. Only the prospect of Ludwig one day telling Jim that he had been rocked in his cradle by Martin Buber could convince Buber “to unbend to that extent,” despite earlier protestations of having too busy a schedule. “We’ll come,” Buber shouted over the telephone. “We’ll hurry! When is it convenient?”63 Now, two years later, with Ludwig in America and Buber banned from his university post in Germany and in receipt of an invitation from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem (upon which he would act within two years), he was requesting a copy of Rebirth. In return, Buber promised to have “a few books of mine [sent] … which you might not own as yet,” including Ich und Du (I and Thou), available now only from his American publisher. Having survived the Nazi postal censors, Rebirth arrived in Germany in November after several months in transit. Buber enjoyed seeing his own work translated and published in English, and thought the entire volume “very respectable,” placing it among “a group of books which are of a high level of publication.” In his isolation, Buber asked if Ludwig could send a few of his other works.64 Within ten years, Ludwig would return the compliment by translating a volume of Buber’s as a part of his own attempt to memorialize the once vital German Jewish culture.
Still worsening conditions in Europe made Ludwig increasingly impatient with those who would question the Jews’ right to a refuge in Palestine, or compromise its survival with calls for a binational state or with claims of Jewish usurpation of Arab land and rights. Though Buber would disagree with Ludwig’s insistence upon a Jewish homeland under Jewish control, the fact of his colleague’s flight from a country in the hands of his oppressors was proof enough for Ludwig that no other solution was either viable or moral. The latest in a series of Arab attacks upon Jewish settlers, dating back to the early 1920s, had occurred on April 19, 1936, in and around Tel Aviv. On June 3 the Nation published what Ludwig viewed as an apology for these pogroms, laying the blame upon the victims as interlopers rather than upon their attackers, while acknowledging that Arab conditions had improved with the growing Jewish presence—that, in fact, hundreds of Arabs were entering Palestine illegally each day because of increased employment opportunities and higher wages than elsewhere; that nearly all Jewish-owned land had been purchased from Arabs at exorbitantly inflated prices, at times tenfold their actual value; that most of Palestine’s tax income was being generated from the Jews, though most of it was being spent by the British on services for the Arabs; that, despite Arab nationalist claims that the Jews were merely an extension of British imperialism, “there is of course no comparison … the Jews coming to their historic home … [without] economic disadvantage to the original inhabitants.” There would be no peace, the Nation asserted, “until one side emerges victorious.… Two powerful forces are colliding. Blood is inevitable. It has flowed in the past; it is flowing today; it will flow in the future.”65
If the article itself appeared neutral to most readers, Ludwig recognized its author, Albert Viton, from an exposé that had earlier appeared in the Labor Zionist journal, Jewish Frontier. Ludwig thanked its editor, Hayim Greenberg, for having “exposed the unspeakable Viton,”66 and alerted him to his own letter then appearing in the Nation in response to Viton’s article. Only after he had “bedeviled the Nation” and its “semi-conscious rashaim, ostensibly my friends,” had the journal printed Ludwig’s objections. “Jewish self-hatred and self-degradation and self-torture,” resulting from allowing “the judgment of their enemies [to] contaminate their own consciousness,” was at the root of Viton’s analysis of “the supposed clash of interests,” Ludwig insisted in his letter of July 5, published on August 8. This self-hatred, Ludwig further argued, was itself largely a cover, most often unconsciously, for something far more insidious—the desire for flight from one’s self, disguised as universal caring, and designed to deflect potential attackers by joining their spurious humanitarian posturings.
Again and again I have met Jews, younger Jews and older Jews, who were worried about the Arabs. And these Jews generally thought they belonged to leftist groups or persuasions and had no glimmering of suspicion that their leftist leanings were in part at least Jewish flight and defense mechanisms. If (like The Nation, for instance) you worry about the Arabs, it is evident that you are a great lover of mankind and thoroughly objective and so … and so … here comes an enormous leap, both psychological and historical, the pogromchiks of the future may forget you.
“Don’t fret. They won’t,” Ludwig warned his readers, as recent events had once again demonstrated. “You will be mitgefangen, mitgehangen [caught together, hanged together] and will have nothing to look back on except the fact that you have betrayed Israel.” Whatever concern they expressed for the Arabs of Palestine, Ludwig recommended, would be better focused elsewhere. Jews had played no role in creating or maintaining the Arabs’ present subservient position. Nor were the Jews the root cause of their own return to Zion. Detractors ought instead to look to the Europeans who had enslaved the Jews, dispersed them, and continued their persecution. As for the Arabs, despite a vast empire stretching from North Africa to the Persian Gulf, they had failed to show any “vestige of political ability … for centuries.” If anything, the already improved living conditions among the Arabs residing in Palestine demonstrated how “a bi-national British dominion or neutralized state (like Belgium) on both sides of the Jordan would, through the work of Jews, enhance the prestige of the Arabs by virtue of their very collaboration in such a state. Arab civilization, utterly stagnant for centuries, might by the inspiration of our rebirth take on some life once more.” Such concerns, of course, were one-directional. “Only Jewish idealists think that far.”67
Having returned from the winter lecture tour in early spring only to find Mary’s latest assault mounting and, by summer, threatening to completely disrupt his plans for Trumpet, Ludwig had seized upon the offer from Seven Arts to write a syndicated column on current Jewish issues. He now chose to expand on these ideas in several upcoming columns. Without identifying the article or its author, Ludwig severely criticized both as products of the self-hatred he had identified in his recent Nation letter, and in numerous other places over the years since discovering it in himself. “I don’t want to be called Jew,” the author had protested. “Well, if that’s the way they feel about it, all right.” He would respect their decision to deprive themselves of the “tragic glory of Jewish functioning in the world.” But why, he pondered, did they have to offer “specious and silly rationalizations,” all of which were damaging. “He might have spared us his spiritually hideous and shameful defamation of our rebirth,” along with all of “the filth and the slanders and the lies and the misinterpretations” which, like the medieval apostates who joined the Church and spoke out against their former community to prove their new loyalty, served only to do harm. “He might have spared us that … death-wish for his people and himself.”
As bad as this was, it was compounded by “blackening the character of that which he hates … from the point of view of our Gentile friends.”68 Even more so, in the sight of “the world’s liberals,” whose failure to befriend the Jew, while wishing to support others among the oppressed, remained for “many intelligent Jews … a source of irritation and sorrow. In America the most conspicuous example of this unfriendliness is to be found in the articles and editorials of The Nation.” Not that they hadn’t fought anti-Semitism. On the contrary, their antifascist record was pronounced. They merely wished that there were no Jews, or, at least, no Jews who insisted on remaining Jewish, no anti-assimilatory Jews whose very nature set them apart, caused their persecution, and forced the liberals’ alleged liberalism to be tested. “If you do not defend the right of that eternally unique character to exist and function in peace either everywhere or somewhere on earth,” Ludwig argued, then “the gestures are empty, the words are vain.” Curiously, rights enjoyed by other groups and defended by liberals were to be denied the Jews. As an example, Ludwig cited H. G. Wells’s protest against the Zionist program as an act of ghettoization whose outcome would be to “divert [Jewry] from human service to racial boasting.” But, asked Ludwig, “is Denmark a ghetto?” Would they be more useful to humanity dispersed, weakened, and persecuted? “But Mr. Wells is simply an anti-Semite who is ashamed of the fact. So are many liberals. So-called liberals. The true liberals are rare.”69
Little wonder, then, that the recent attack upon a school by Palestinian Arabs in Tel Aviv, seriously wounding five children at recess in the schoolyard, had failed to appear in the American press. “If Arabs had been hanged the papers would have been in a state of frenzy,” unlike the practiced disregard of nearly all to the Arab attack on Jews. Only Ludwig’s Yiddish newspaper had reported the incident. “The dice are loaded against us,” he noted with contempt. “We have to play the game of life with loaded dice.” So be it. But why so little involvement by Jews, educated, powerful, and talented; why their disregard for the facts of not only this incident but, in the light of the persecution in Europe of which they must certainly have had some awareness, of the need for the Zionist solution? It was, as each day amply demonstrated, the only “well-founded hope of ending some day this recurrent tragedy typical of the dispersion, of bringing this monstrous pendulum of the Galuth to a halt.” Such men were too wed to the worldly visions of specific time and place, without a sense of the truth taught by the great religions—“that all worldly reasons are bad and perishable reasons, that all action according to worldly advantage and good repute is sterile action and leads not to life but to death.… A coil of error and false argument binds these people in impalpable chains.”
“I am the only American Jewish man of letters who is an active Zionist,” he noted that summer, finding this “an appalling commentary on the state—both the ethical and intellectual state—of American Jewry.” And if he was without a solution to either problem—of how to truly liberalize the American press or how to activate “the intellectual and social fugitives and snobs among American Jewry”—he hoped that it was “of some service to have at least asked the question.”70 This, among other tasks, was the role of the “Professional Jew,” a title others looked upon opprobriously, but which he wore with great pride. Was not Washington a professional American and Garibaldi a professional Italian, in the sense of “to speak out or confess or bear witness for or to some knowledge, faith, allegiance, love that will not be denied, that cannot be resisted, that must lead to action and to service and, if need be, also to servitude and suffering”? Greater men than he had served, from the ancient prophets to Herzl. And if he came late to this role, though “smaller, humbler, less effectual,” he could take some comfort as a bearer of this “great and noble and consecrated tradition … the one thing that I am proud of being.”71
Such choice, however, had not been without cost to him personally and professionally, he now acknowledged more openly and fully. Gentile critics had all but ignored his efforts, Jewish and general, fictional and not. Non-Zionist Jews had written him off, while young radical Jews of the Left had convinced themselves that he was in the employ of the capitalists. Like the fundamentalists he had grown up with in the South, these young Jews seemed completely unaware that “the operations of the critical intelligence could have something to do with the case.” Economic determinism held no truth. For Ludwig, the role of material needs played but a “tertiary, subsidiary, ancillary” part in the scheme of human behavior, far below the pursuit of “super-sensual ends, from magic to high religion, from animism to the crazy cult of Nordic supremacy and the ecstasy of death in battle.” Nor could he bow to “the unitary state,” which ultimately would prove to be “the enemy of all good, of all goodness, of all freedom, of all development.… My ideal is the distribution of power and of poverty. It is decentralization,” even if the price were want by some in the face of greed by others. Far better was it than the concentration of authority with its predictable results—an individual or group which will “devour your right and mine to speak and live and pray as we like.” The “enforced assimilation” of the Jews by the Soviets, and the fear of what might happen “when the Sovietized Jews will be discovered not to have been sovietized enough,” if nothing else, was sufficient reason for these radical young Jews to reconsider their infatuation and abandonment.72 The real liberals, the true radicals throughout history, had been the Jews who had placed at the center of their ethical teachings the principles of “human freedom and human dignity everywhere in the world. Our ancient codes demand limitation of state sovereignty, equality of men before the law, tolerance of minorities, protection of workers and wage-earners, the social concern of individuals and society for the bereft and unfortunate.”73 These were the very ideals which were too often being sought by the young radicals and by the assimilated liberals in places where they did not exist, or where what was granted to others would be denied them if they chose to remain who they were. “I am forever on the side of justice and of freedom for all men,” Ludwig assured those who doubted his position and motives, “but I cannot make my mind stop working or forget all I have ever known.”74
Instead, he had come to accept his isolation “as an American man of letters.… Subtly but surely, without open unkindness, all the old colleagues and friends … have withdrawn themselves. They simply do not understand. They count me as lost…. I am regarded with chill respect.”75 Others had been less kind, particularly those whose assimilationist and political postures he had sharply questioned, among them Isaac Goldberg of the American Spectator, who, in an article titled “Ludwig Backstream Lewisohn,” published to the accompaniment of a stereotypically Jewish caricature of Ludwig, held that “Lewisohn’s decline, his defeat, as an artist, link themselves to his reactionary nationalism and the recrudescence of his faith.” Goldberg tied Ludwig to discredited notions of race and accused him of perpetuating them in service to “the powers and principalities of the economic system. What mankind needs is not conversion,” Goldberg insisted, “but emancipation from class rule.”76
If from within the Jewish world such criticism of his work could be offered, there was little question as to why editors no longer called upon him as they once did, nor why book clubs would not distribute his books. “My novels, because predominately Jewish, my true life work, are treated with silence.” And though he and Harpers had lost money, he “would do it right over again. It was my job.” Clearly, all the rewards lay elsewhere, even “the illusory satisfaction that there is in posthumous fame. Gentile historians of literature will not even in democratic cultures admit that a Jew writing as a Jew and of Jews is or can have been within that culture of equal value with their own writers.” And though he had consciously chosen to “lose the world, present and future,” he was unsure if he had “gained the Jewish people.”77 Suffering a heavy measure of doubt, he asked if “these words [would] have any effect? I doubt it,” he answered. “It hurts to think.”78 Yet, after so many turns, the path for him was clear and certain. “For, being what I am, believing as I do … my identification with my people and my embracing with all my heart and strength of the Zionist cause … I could make no other choice.”79
As such, other involvements had become increasingly intolerable. “I drive several trades to exist half way decently,”80 but he was learning how to deal summarily with the more disruptive. Harpers continued their attempt to recover his debt and to further clarify arrangements with Simon and Schuster,81 while Ludwig, no longer willing to work on material solely for such purposes, reminded Saxton of their talk of a popular edition of Expression in America, or its sale to a reprint house under the new title of The Story of American Literature (both occurring over the next three years under the latter title). These, he suggested, should be readied for the Christmas season while “the book is not yet forgotten nor the acclaim it received. We do not have to resuscitate it.”82 Similarly, he offered Mid-Channel, The Island Within, Stephen Escott, and The Last Days of Shylock to Cerf for the Modern Library, feeling somewhat embarrassed by their sole offering of Up Stream. Though these works were still highly regarded by those who favored the earlier Ludwig, he was aware of having pulled too many punches and had grown “tired of being represented in the M. L. by my (comparatively speaking) most primitive book. In parts, damn it, a soggy book.”83 Cerf was pleased to learn of Ludwig’s other books’ sales histories, but was determined not to expand his list beyond Up Stream at this time. Continuing sales of over a thousand copies a year, “a pretty gratifying record … considering the length of time that the book has been in print,” was reason enough for Cerf not to risk any change in 1936.84
And that was it. All the time and energy Ludwig could devote to such unproductive matters had been spent. “The choice is the man,” he had told his readers that year,85 and he lived to honor his choice. How else might he have the impact he hoped possible? “It is the virtue and the pathos of man that he aspires endlessly toward a better world,” Ludwig began his Rosh Hashanah column; “it is his weakness and his tragedy that he does nothing to bring such a world even one step nearer.” Despite all of the technological advances he had witnessed, it was clear to Ludwig, as to anyone “not wholly bereft of any critical sense … [that] the sum of human mercy, tranquility and both moral and physical well-being have been unmeasurably diminished.” Each year the world seemed to slide backward, “more torn and riven, more filled with hate and pain, more scorched by suffering and conflict.” Building great monuments to greed and power, mankind “deadens the inner voice with the clangor of his material achievements.” Ludwig’s struggle with the world was this very fight against “the unredeemed of heart and mind.” All change derived from such a source could be nothing but evil in its ends. “It must be a pure and redeemed will that seeks to change this world into the better world that is to come,” a will whose center, whose soul was touched by God as the ground of all morality. “Unless each soul achieves its teshuvah [turning to God] and men collectively act out of a purged and sanctified will, we shall go on aspiring after a better world feebly, futilely and in vain…. The universe in other words is, according to the Jewish conception, a universe of moral dynamism, of a continuous vivid moral life.” Outward changes can have no lasting impact upon the moral direction of the world, Ludwig held, unless they are the “embodiments of moral change, of spiritual vision, of justice, truth and peace suffusing the inner being of men.”
As in his own life, he insisted upon such change for all, and particularly within the Jewish world, so that the example of the Yishuv, of its decision to respond to violence against it with patience and determination rather than with “vengeance and reprisal,” would be strengthened and serve as an example to the larger world. Through his work for the redemption of Zion, Ludwig had found the great cause of his life, the path he had searched for long and hard. He invited all to join. “More than ever before we need, as Jews and men, to strive for freedom. But it must be first an inner freedom if from it is to spring an outer one. We must first will purely and loyally the redemption of Yisrael and the redemption of mankind before we can affect the world of matter and circumstance.” The “inviolable soul” awaited the piercing sound of the Shofar, “the great horn of our freedom—of our liberation from that sloth of the will, that trust in machinery and devices” which continued to “keep the day of the Meshiach [Messiah] from being this day in our lives and the lives of our children.”86