The Novels Of Smolenskin
( Originally Published 1909 )
Smolenskin owed his vast popularity and his influence on his contemporaries only in part to his work as a journalist. What brought him close to the people were his realistic novels, which occupy the highest place in modern Hebrew literature.
Smolenskin's first piece of fiction, Ha-Gemul (" The Recompense ") , was published at Odessa, in 1868, on a subject connected with the Polish insurrection. Save its realistic style, there was nothing about it to betray the future novel writer of eminence.
It was said above, that Smolenskin wrote the early chapters of his Ha-To`eh while at Odessa, and, also, he planned another novel there, " The Joy of the Hypocrite ". When he proposed working out the latter for publication in Ha-Meliz, the editor rejected the idea disdainfully, saying that he preferred translations to original stories, so little likely did it seem that realistic writing could be done in Hebrew. Once he had his own organ, Ha-Shahar, Smolenskin wrote and published novel after novel in it, beginning with his Ha-To'eh be-Darke ha-Hayyim. In Ha-Shahar it appeared in three parts. Later it came out in book form, in four volumes. It is the first work of the Hebrew realistic school worthy of being classed as such.
As Cervantes makes his hero Don Quixote pass through all the social strata of his time, so the Hebrew novelist conducts his wanderer, Joseph the orphan, through the nooks and corners of the ghetto. He introduces him to all the scenes of Jewish life, he displays before his eyes all its customs and manners, he makes him a witness to all its superstitions, fanaticism,, and sordidness of every, kind, a physical and social abasement that has no parallel. A faithful observer, an impressionist, an unemphatic realist, he discloses on every page misunderstood lives, extravagant beliefs, movements, evils, greatnesses, and miseries, of which the civilized world had not the slightest suspicion. It is the Odyssey of the ghetto adventurer, the life and journeyings of the author himself, magnified, and enveloped in the fictitious circumstances in which the hero is placed, a human document of the greatest significance.
Joseph, the orphan, whose father, persecuted by the Hasidim, disappeared, and whose mother died in abject misery, is received into the house of his uncle, the same brother of his father who had caused the father's ruin. Abused by a wicked aunt and driven by an irresistible hankering after a vagabond life, he runs away from his foster home. First he is picked up by a band of rascally mendicants, then he becomes an inmate in the house of a Baal-Shem, a charlatan wonder-worker, and thus a changeful existence leads him to traverse the greater part of Jewish Russia. In a series of photographic pictures, Smolenskin reproduces in detail the ways and exploits of all the bohemians of the ghetto, from the beggars up to the peripatetic can-tors, their moral shortcomings, their spitefulness, and their insolence. Impelled by the wish to ac-quire an education, and perhaps also put a roof over his head, Joseph finally enters a celebrated Yeshibah. It is the salvation of the young tramp. He is given food, he sleeps on the school benches, and he is rescued from military service. But soon, having incurred disfavor by his frankness, and especially because he is discovered reading secular books, in which he is initiated by one of his fellow-students, he is obliged to leave the Yeshibah. By the skin of his teeth he escapes being packed off to the army as a soldier. He takes refuge with the Hasidim, and has the good fortune to find favor in the eyes of the Zaddik ("Saint") himself.
But very soon he revolts against the equivocal transports of the saintly sect. In his wanderings, Joseph doubtless meets with good people, disinterested idealists, simple men and women of the rank and file, Rabbis worthy of the highest praise, enthusiastic intellectuals, but the ordinary life of the ghetto, abnormal and narrow, disgusts him completely. He departs to seek a freer life in the West. Passing through Germany without stop-ping, he goes on to London. Everywhere he makes Jewish society the object of study, and everywhere he suffers disillusionment. Ha-To' eh is a veritable encyclopedia of Jewish life at the beginning of the second half of the nineteenth century.
As a work of fiction, the novel cannot bear inspection. It is a succession of fantastic, sometimes incoherent events, an artificial complex of person-ages appearing on the scene at the will of the author, and acting like puppets on wires. The miraculous abounds, and the characters are in part exaggerated, in part blurred.
On the other hand, it is an incomparable work taken as a panorama of realistic scenes, not always consecutive scenes, but always absolutely true to life a gallery of pictures of the ghetto.
Joseph is a painter, a realist first and last, and an impressionist besides. Looking at the lights and shadows of his picture, we feel that what we see is not all pure, spontaneous art. Like Auerbach and like Dickens, he is a thinker, a teacher. A true son of the ghetto, he preaches and moralizes. Sometimes he goes too far in his desire to impress a lesson. The reader perceives too clearly that the author has not remained an indifferent outsider while writing his novel. It is evident that his heart is torn by contradictory emotions pity, compassion, scorn, anger, and love, all at once.
In point of style also the novel is a realistic piece of work. Smolenskin does not resort to Talmudisms, like Gordon and Abramowitsch, but, also, he takes care not to indulge in too many Biblical metaphors. This sometimes necessitates circumlocutions, and on the whole his oratorical manner leads to prolixity, but his prose always remains pure, flowing, and precise in the highest degree.
To illustrate Smolenskin's way of writing, and all the peculiarity of the social life he depicts, we cannot do better than translate a few passages from his novel dealing with characteristic phases of ghetto life.
Joseph is narrating his adventures and the impressions of his daily routine. The following is his striking description of the Heder, the well-known primary school of the ghetto, when his uncle first enters him there as a pupil:
" When I say house, let not the reader imagine a stone structure. What he would see is a small, low building, somewhat like a dog's kennel, built of thin boards, rotten at that. The thatch that covers it by way of roof hangs down to the ground, and yet it cannot keep off the rain, for the goats browsing in the neighborhood have munched off half of it to satisfy their appetite. Within there is a single room covered with black soot, the four walls garnished with spider-webs, and the floor paved with mortar. On the eastern wall hangs a large sheet of paper with the inscription, `Hence blows the breath of life ', which not many visitors will believe, because, instead of a quickening breath, pestilential odors enter by the window and offend the nostrils of those whose olfactory nerve has not lost all sensitiveness On the opposite wall, to the west, appear the words, 'A memorial unto the destruction of the Temple'. To this day I do not know what there was to commemorate the fall of the Holy Place. The rickety rafters? Or were the little creatures swarming all over the walls to remind one of `the foxes that walk upon the mountain of Zion'?
"A huge stove occupies one-fourth of the room-space. Between the stove and the wall, to the right, is a bed made up ready for use, and on the other side a smaller one full of straw and hay, and without bed-covers. Opposite to it stands a large deal table tattoed with marks that are the handiwork of the Melammed. With his little penknife, which was never out of his hands, he would cut them into the wood all the time he was teaching us figures of beasts and fowl, and queer words
" Around this table about ten boys were sitting, some conning the Talmud and others the Bible. One of the latter, seated at the right of the teacher, was reading aloud, in a sing-song voice, the section of the Pentateuch assigned for the following Sabbath in the synagogue, and his cantillation blended with the crooning of the teacher's wife as she sat by her baby's bed, .... but every now and then the master's voice rose and drowned the sounds of both, as the growl of the thunder stifles the roar of the waves.
"The teacher was hideous to behold. He was short of stature and thin, his cheeks were withered looking, his nose long and aquiline. His two Peat 1 were raven black and hung down like ropes by the side of his face. Old as he was, his cheeks showed only tufts of beard here and there, on account of his habit of plucking the hairs out one by one when he was absorbed in thought, not to mention those plucked out by his wife without the excuse of thinking. His black cap shone like a buttered roll, his linen shirt was neither an Egyptian nor a Swiss fabric, and his chest, overgrown with long black hair, always showed bare through the slit of his unbuttoned shirt. His linen trousers had been white once upon a time, but now they were picturesquely variegated from the dust and soot clinging to them, and by the stains added by his young hopeful, when he sat and played on his knees, by way of contributing his share to the glory in which his father was resplendently arrayed. His Zizzit hung down to his bare feet. When my uncle entered the house, the teacher jumped up and ran hither and thither, seeking his shoes, but he could not find them. My uncle relieved him from his embarrassment by presenting me, with the words, `Here is a new pupil for you!' Calming down, the teacher resumed his seat, and when we approached him, he tapped me on my cheek, saying, `What hast thou learnt, my son?' All the pupils opened their mouth and eyes in amazement, and looked at me with envy. These many days, since they them-selves were entered as new pupils in the school, they had not heard such gentle words issue from the mouth of the teacher "
This odd school prepared the child of the ghetto in very deed for the life and the struggle for existence awaiting him. In the next higher school, the Yeshibah, the alma mater of the Rabbinical student, the happenings were no less curious.
The young people in those strange colleges, for the most part precocious urchins, fall into classes, which, however, are not sharply divided off from one another. Day and night they sit bent over the huge folios of the Rabbis, occupied constantly with the study of the Law. Their meals are furnished them by the humble people of the town, often under deplorable conditions, and, on the whole, the life they lead is misery not untinged with humiliation. Such are the student years of the future Rabbis. And yet this bohemian existence is not destitute of picturesque elements and attractive features. Frequently it is at the Yeshibah that the young man for the first time finds sincere friends for whom he forms a lasting attachment, and they become his trusted advisers. It is a mob of young people, enthusiastic and impetuous, yet among them is found the aristocracy of the ghetto, those endowed with extraordinary intellectual gifts, and the devotion displayed by some of them to Talmudic knowledge is absolutely sub-lime.
Smolenskin paints a characteristic Yeshibah scene enacted by these embryonic Talmudists:
" It is a strange spectacle that meets the eye of the observer on his first visit to the women's gallery in the Yeshibah [at nightfall]. He finds it suddenly transformed into a gathering-place for merchants. The boys who have bread or money, try their hands at trafficking, and those who have neither bread nor money, try theirs at theft, and a large group of those who loathe the one pursuit as well as the other, sit apart and entertain each other with the wonderful exploits of brigands, and giants, and witches, and devils, and evil spirits, who are abroad at night to affright human beings, and the dead who leave their graves to terrify the wicked or cure the sick with grass of the field, and many more such tales that delight the heart and soul of the listeners. Such things have I myself seen even while the afternoon and the evening prayers were going on below. I heard confused sounds. One would cry out, 'Who wants bread?' And another would sing out in reply, 'Who has bread to sell? Who has bread to sell?'' Here is bread!',' Will you take a penny for it? '' Two pennies, and no less!'' Some one has stolen my bread! Who stole my bread?'' My bread is first-class ! Come and buy!'' But I haven't a red copper!'' All right, give me a pledge!'' You may have my troubles as a pledge, you old curmudgeon!'' Here are two pennies, give me the bread ! '' Get out, I was ahead of you ! '' I insist upon my rights, I was the first'' Why, I handed my money over long ago, it is my bread.'' You stole my bread.'' You lie, it's my bread !'' You're a liar, a thief, a robber !'' The devil take you, you hound !'' Wait a moment, and I'll show you my teeth, if I'm a hound!'
" And so the words fly from mouth to mouth in the women's gallery, and cuffs and blows are not rare things, either, and not one of the boys remembers that the congregation below is at prayers. They go on trafficking and telling tales undisturbed, until the end of the service, and then they return to their seats, every boy to his own at the long tables, which are lighted each of them by a single candle for its whole length. A dispute breaks out as to where the candle is to stand. First one draws it up to himself, and then another wrests it from his hand and sets it next to his own book, and finally all decide to measure the table. One of the boys takes off his belt, and ascertains the breadth of the table and its length, and the candle. is put in the exact centre. The quarrel is settled, and the students begin to drawl the text before them, and what they did the whole live-long day, they continue to do at night.
"Then one of them says, 'I sold my bread for two pennies'---
And I bought an apple for one penny and a cake for half a penny', returns another.` Darkness swallow up the monitor ! He doesn't give us enough candles to light up the dark ! '---' The devil take him!'' A plague on him!'' I am going on a visit home at Passover.'' Sarah the widow lent me three pennies.'
"While the boys talk thus over their open books, their bodies are swaying to and fro like reeds in a pond, and their voices rise and fall in the same sing-song in which they con their texts, all to deceive the monitor, who, hearing the usual drawl and seeing the rocking bodies, believes the students to be busy at their tasks. But little by little, they forget and drop out of their recitative into the ordinary conversational tone.' Tell me, Zabualean [the pupils are called by their native town in the Yeshibah], don't you think it's about time for the angel of death to come and carry off our monitor? Or is he going to live forever?'' I pray to God to afflict his body with such ills that he cannot come to the Yeshibah. Then we should have rest. I take good care not to ask for his death. Another would take his place, and there's no telling whether he would not be worse. If pain keeps him abed, we shall have a respite.'' But aren't you committing a sin, cursing a deaf man?' interposes one of the boys, indignantly.` Look at that Azubian! A saint, isn't he? Proof enough that he has seven sins hidden in his heart!' retorts the Zabualean. ' No need of any such proof! Why, this very Azubian could not resist the tempter, and is hard at work studying Russian. That's as bad as bad can be, you don't have to search out hidden sins.' ' I at least am not perverting the right,' the Azubian flings out, `because the Talmud itself says that the law of the land is law, but you are committing an actual sin against the Torah in cursing . . . .' The sentence was never finished, for the monitor had been standing behind the table observing the boys for some time, and when he saw the excitement of the Azubian, being deaf, he could not hear what he said, he threw himself upon him, and, seizing him by the ear, shook him as violently as his strength permitted, crying, `You wretches, you rebels, there, that's for you!' and he beat another boy with his fists, and struck a third upon his cheeks. ` The monitor has rained profuse kisses upon the Azubian for defending him!' one of the boys paraphrased Proverbs,' drawling in the approved sing-song, and keeping his eyes fixed upon his book. The others burst into loud laughter at the sally. Even those who were still smarting from the monitor's blows could not restrain themselves and joined in. `Are you making fun of me? You're not afraid?' thundered the monitor, in towering rage, turning this way and that, uncertain whom to select as the first victim of his heavy hand. Before he could collect his wits, one of the boys yelled, `Rabbi Isaac, Rabbi Isaac, the candles!' It worked like a conjurer's charm upon a serpent. In an instant the monitor turned and ran to his room and searched it. Seeing no one there, he sank into his chair, and groaned : `Wicked, depraved children ! Those gallows-birds, I'll mangle their flesh, and flay the skin from their bones!' and he kept on mumbling to himself in this strain, until sleep fell upon his eyelids shaded by long eyebrows white as snow, and his head dropped into his hands resting upon the table.
"As soon as he slept, the boys resumed their talk, and my friend continued to tell me about life in the Yeshibah . . . . `Do you think that the Yeshibah students are guileless youths who have never dropped their mother's apron strings? If you do, you are vastly mistaken. They are up to all the tricks, and the dullest among them can show a thing or two to the best of the rich boys. You will do well to observe their ways and learn from them.'' I shall try to walk in their footsteps.'
"Then I went out to get my supper. On returning I found the greater part of the boys had gone to sleep, and almost all the candles were out. Only a few of the students were sitting together and talking. I sought out my friend, and discovered him lying upon one of the tables in the women's gallery, but he was still awake. `Why don't you look for a place to lie down in?' he asked me. ` I shall lie here next to you,' I replied.' No, you can't do that. Here each boy has a place in which he always sleeps; he never changes about. Go down to the men's hall and look for an unoccupied spot. If you find a table, so much the better. If not, you must be satisfied with a bench.' I did as he advised. I found a long table in the men's hall, but hardly was I stretched out upon it when a boy took me by the scruff of my neck and shook me, saying: `Get out, this is my place! And all the tables here are taken by boys who came to the Yeshibah long ahead of you. You must look for another place.'
" Not very much pleased, I slipped down from the table, and lay on the bench. But I could not go to sleep. I was not accustomed to the narrow board, nor to sleep without a bed-cover, and the little and big insects that swarmed in the cracks of the wood came forth from their nests and tickled me all over my body. But there was nothing to do, and I lay there in discomfort until all the lights were extinguished. Only one light of all burnt the whole night, the Ner tamid, and under it sat two students, the ` watchers' [whose duty it was to continue at their task until morning, so that the study of the Law might not be interrupted day or night]."
A life full of excitement, of which the above is a specimen, was not likely to displease so adventurous a spirit as Joseph's. When all is said, the Yeshibah provided a living for the young people, not overabundant, it is true, but at least they were relieved of material cares. The pious middle class Jews, and even the poor, considered it their duty to supply the needs of the young Talmudists, and the ambition of the latter was satisfied by the general good feeling that prevailed in their favor. For the aristocracy among the Jews, whose minds had not yet been stimulated by the new ideas, the Yeshibah was the home of all the virtues, the school in which the ideal was pursued, and lofty dreams were dreamed.
In another novel, " The Joy of the Hypocrite," which appeared in Vienna, in 1872, Smolenskin extols the idealism of his hero Simon, a product of the Yeshibah:
"Who had implanted in the mind of Simon the ideal of justice and the sublime word? Who had kindled in his soul the sacred flame, love of truth and research? Verily, he had found all these in the Yeshibah. Glory and increase be to you, ye holy places, last refuges of Israel's real heritage! From your portals came forth the elect destined from birth to be the light of their people and breathe new life into the dry bones."
Even during the period of the Behalah (" Terror ") the Yeshibah remained unscathed, beyond the reach of misery and baseness. The venal jobbers, who, with the assistance of the Kahl, de-livered the sons of the poor to the army in order to shield the rich, did not dare invade the Rabbinical schools. Like the Temple in ancient times, the Yeshibot offered a sure refuge. Whenever these sanctuaries were imperilled, national sentiment was aroused, and the threatened encroachments upon the last national treasure were resisted with bitter determination, for the idealism of the people of the ghetto, their hope and their faith, were enshrined there.
Joseph forfeited the privilege of sanctuary re-siding in the Yeshibah on the day he was taken red-handed, in the act of reading a profane book. Religious fanaticism had never proceeded with so much rigor as during the reign of terror following upon the disorganization of the social life of the Jews by the authorities, and the triumphant assertion of arbitrary power. Nevertheless, even at this disheartening juncture, the Rabbinical schools were the asylum of whatever of ideal or sublime there remained in Israel.
They furnished all the champions of humanism and the preachers and disseminators of civilization. In them Joseph met the generous comrades who introduced him to the Haskalah, and awakened love for the noble and the good in him, and boundless devotion to his people.
Hard as flint toward the inefficient leaders, without pity for the hypocrites and the fanatics, the heart of Joseph yet pulsated with love for the Jewish masses. Their unsympathetic surroundings and the persecutions to which they were exposed but increased his compassion for the straying flock of his people. In the general degradation, he succeeded in rising to moral heights, and so could set himself up for an impartial judge. He did not permit himself to be carried away by the sadness of the moment, though he did not remain indifferent to it, and his heart bled at the thought of his people's sufferings. In the human desert, in which he delighted to disport himself, he discovered noble characters, lofty sentiments, generous friendships, and, above all, lives devoted entirely to the pursuit of the ideal undeterred by any obstacle.
One after the other he presents the idealists of the ghetto to the reader. There is, first of all, Jedidiah, the common type of the Maskil, working zealously for culture, spreading truth and light in all the circles he can reach, dreaming of a Juda-ism, just, enlightened, exalted. Then there are the ardent young apostles, like that noble friend of Joseph, Gideon, most enlightened and most tolerant of Maskilim. In the measure in which Gideon detests fanaticism, he loves the people. He loves the masses with the heart of a patriot and the soul of a prophet. He loves them exactly as they are, with their beliefs, their simple faith, their poor, submissive lives, their ambitions as the chosen people, and their Messianic hope, to which he himself clings, though in a way less mystical than theirs.
Thrilling, patriotic exaltation pervades the chap-ter 0n " The Day of Atonement." There Smolenskin appears as a genuine romanticist.
Such in outline are the features of this chaotic, superb novel, which, in spite of its faults of technique, remains to this day the truest and the most beautiful product of neo-Hebrew literature.
Ten years after finishing it, the author added a fourth part, which, on the whole, is nothing but an artificial collection of letters relating only in-directly to the main story. Joseph takes us with him through the Western lands, and then to Russia, whither he returns. In France and in England, he deplores the degeneracy of Judaism, attributing it to the ascendency of the Mendelssohnian school, and he foresees the approach of anti-Semitism. In Russia, he notes the prevalence of economic misery in frightful proportions, especially in the small rural towns, while in the large centres he regrets to see that the communities use every effort to imitate Occidental Judaism with all its faults. The overhasty culture of the Russian Jews, weakly correlated with the economic and political conditions under which they lived, was bound to bring on the breaking up of the passive idealism which constituted their chief strength.
The novel Keburat Humor (" The Burial of the Ass ") is the most elaborate and the most finished of Smolenskin's works. It describes the time of the " Terror " and the domination of the Kahal. The hero, Hayyim Jacob, is a wag, but pleasantries are not always understood in the ghetto, and he is made to pay for them. His practical jokes and his small respect for the notables of the community, whom he dares to defy and poke fun at, are his ruin.
He was scarcely more than a child when he was guilty of unprecedented conduct. Wrapped in blue drapery, like a corpse risen from the grave, and spreading terror wherever he appeared, he made his way one evening into the room in which cakes were stored for the next day's annual banquet of the Hebrah Kadisha (" Holy Brotherhood "), the all-powerful society, organized primarily to per-form the last rites and ceremonies for the dead, to which the best Jews of a town belong. He got possession of all the dainty morsels, and made away with them. It was an unpardonable crime, high treason against saintliness. An inquiry was ordered, but the culprit was not discovered.
In revenge, the Brotherhood ordained the " burial of an ass " for the nameless criminal, and the verdict was recorded in the minutes of the society.
The incorrigible Hayyim Jacob continues to perpetrate jokes, and the Kahal decides to surrender him to the army recruiting officer. Warned be-times, he is able to make good his escape. He re-turns to his native town later on under an assumed name, imposes upon everybody by his scholarship, and marries the daughter of the head of the community. But his natural inclinations get the upper hand again. Meantime, he has confided the tale of his youthful tricks to his wife. She is disturbed by what she knows, she cannot endure the idea of the unparalleled punishment that awaits her husband should he be identified, for to undergo the burial of an ass is the supremest indignity that can be offered to a Jew. The body of the offender is dragged along the ground to the cemetery, and there it is thrown into a ditch made for the purpose behind the wall enclosing the grounds. But was not her father the head of the community? Could he not annul the verdict? She discloses the secret to him, and the effect is to fill him with instantaneous rage: What ! to that wicked fellow he has given his daughter, to that heretic ! He wants to force him to give up his wife, but no more than the husband will the woman listen to any such proposal. Hayyim Jacob succeeds in ingratiating himself with his father-in-law, though by fraud and only for a short time. After that, one persecution after another is inflicted upon him, and he succumbs.
So much for the background upon which the, novelist has painted his scenes, authentic reproductions from the life of the Jews in Russia. The character of Hayyim Jacob stands out clear and forceful. His wife Esther is the typical Jewish woman, loyal and devoted unto death, of irreproachable conduct under reverses of fortune, and braving a world for love of her husband. The prominent characters of the ghetto are drawn with fidelity, though the colors are sometimes laid on too thick. The author has been particularly happy in re-creating the atmosphere of the ghetto, with its contradictions and its passions, the specialized intellectuality which long seclusion has forged for it, and its odd, original conception of life.
Smolenskin goes to the Yeshibah for the subject of one of his novels, Gemul Yesharim (" The Recompense of the Righteous "). The author de-scribes the part played by the Jewish youth in the Polish insurrection. The ingratitude of the Poles proves that the Jews have nothing to expect from others, and they should count only upon their own resources.
Gaon we-Sheber ( Greatness and Ruin ") is a collection of scattered novelettes, some of which are veritable works of art.
Ha-Yerushah (" The Inheritance ") is the last of Smolenskin's great novels. It was first published in Ha-Shahar, in 18 80-8 I. Its three volumes are full of incoherencies and long drawn out arguments. The life of the Jews of Odessa, however, and of Roumania, is well depicted, and also the psychologic stages through which the older humanists pass, deceived in their hopes, and groping for a return to national Judaism.
Smolenskin's last novel, Nekam Berit (" Holy Vengeance ", Ha-Shahar, 1884) , is wholly Zionistic. It was the author's swan song. Not long after its completion, an illness carried him off.
The novels of Smolenskin are a series of social documents and propagandist writings rather than works of pure art. Their chief defects are the incoherence of the action, the artificiality of the dιnouement, their simplicity in all that concerns modern life, as well as their excessive didactic tendencies and the long-winded style of the author. Most of these defects he shares with such writers as Auerbach, Jokai, and Thackeray, with whom he may be placed in the same class. In passing judgment, it must be borne in mind that the He-brew writer's life was one prolonged and bitter struggle for bare existence, his own and Ha-Shahar's, for the periodical never yielded him any income. Only his idealism and the consciousness of the useful purpose he was serving sustained him in critical moments. These circumstances explain why his works bear the marks of hasty production. However that may be, since he gave them to the Jewish world, his novels have, even more than his articles, exercised unparalleled influence upon his readers.
In a word, the life of the Russian ghetto, its misery and its passions, the positive and the negative types of that vanishing world, have been set down in the writings of Smolenskin with such power of realism and such profound knowledge of conditions that it is impossible to form a just idea of Russo-Polish Judaism without having read what he has written.