Commentary Magazine


One Book

To the Editor:

My profoundest thanks to you, and to Daniel Fuchs, for “Three Books” [June]. Two of the books were completely new to me, and I shall try and find out more about them. The third, I suspect, may be not Silberstein (as Mr. Fuchs has it) but Silbermann, by Jacques de Lacretelle, a novel which had some impact at the time. My copy was published in 1922 in the Editions de la Nouvelle Revue Française and is described on the title page as the 37th edition. This is the first time I have heard the book mentioned since I bought and read it, as an eager graduate student in Paris, some fifty years ago.

Bernard Lewis
Princeton University
Princeton, New Jersey

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To the Editor:

On reading Daniel Fuchs’s “Three Books,” I was reminded of a book which I read some forty years ago and which left a remarkably strong impression on my memory. This book, entitled Silbermann, was written by the French novelist Jacques de Lacretelle and was published in 1922. An English translation appeared the following year. Silbermann, the protagonist of the book, is an intelligent and ambitious Jewish boy who faces an uncertain future in an anti-Semitic French society in the years following the Dreyfus affair. In many (though not all) respects Silbermann appears to resemble Mr. Fuchs’s long-sought Silberstein, and I wonder if they might not in fact be one and the same.

Gaston L. Schmir
Hamden, Connecticut

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To the Editor:

. . . Daniel Fuchs’s nostalgic article stirred my own nostalgia, and I recalled giving a lecture back in the 1950’s on Ludwig Lewisohn’s Three Tales and a Play about Jews. One of those books was Silbermann (not Silberstein), written by Jacques de Lacretelle (a member of the French Academy). . . . The other works included in Lewisohn’s book were Thomas Mann’s “Tamar” (an episode from his Joseph the Provider), “The Alien Corn” (from Somerset Maugham’s First Person Singular), and John Galsworthy’s Loyalties.”

Part of my conclusion in that lecture was the following: “The Jew who tries to forget that he is a Jew will discover that he is neither Jew nor Gentile. He will merely realize that he is a man without a spiritual home—shunned by all, wanted by none. The Jew who does not want to be a Jew will eventually become a spiritual leper. That is the lesson we learn from this collection.”. . .

Milton Birnbaum
American International College
Springfield, Massachusetts

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To the Editor:

Consider this a footnote to Daniel Fuchs’s article, “Three Books,” in which he describes the influence Adolph Gillis had upon him when he was a student at Eastern District High School in Brooklyn.

Like Mr. Fuchs, I was editor of Eastern District’s student publication, Gold and White (successor to the Daisy) while Mr. Gillis was faculty adviser. Although this was nearly a decade after Mr. Fuchs graduated, I can assure him that Mr. Gillis often referred to him with pride, perhaps as a model worthy of my emulation.

Mr. Gillis left Eastern District during the time I was there to become chairman of the English department at another high school. Subsequently, he was appointed principal of an elementary school in Brooklyn. He eventually retired to Middletown, New York and, the last I heard, was in failing health.

I too have not forgotten Mr. Gillis. I still have an inscribed copy of his Ludwig Lewisohn: The Artist and His Message, a critical biography of the brilliant, though nearly forgotten, novelist and scholar.

Lawrence Feigenbaum
Kingsborough Community College
Brooklyn, New York

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Daniel Fuchs writes:

What kind, forbearing readers COMMENTARY has. Lawrence Feigenbaum’s reminiscence and news were most welcome, unexpected. To the others, for their own warm recollections of the French novel and the time, and for correcting me, ever so gently, my appreciative thanks.

I have to ask your readers’ indulgence again. In my article, I said Ralph Sipper, the Santa Barbara rare-book dealer, told me Barbellion’s The Journal of a Disappointed Man was out of print. I now see from the anthology Rediscoveries II (which includes my essay) that there have been “recent expensive reprints from Gordon Press and Century Bookbinding,” and that there is a paperback edition from Salem House (1984).

The misstatement is mine, not Mr. Sipper’s, due to a misunderstanding on my part of a telephone conversation with him that took place when I was getting the piece together, about a year ago. I owe him an apology.

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