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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Meïr Aaron Goldschmidt (1819–1887)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
IN the first line of his memoirs Goldschmidt states that he was of “the tribe of Levi,” a fact of which he was never unconscious, and which has given him his peculiar position in modern Danish literature as the exponent of the family and social life of the orthodox Jew. Brandes writes of Goldschmidt that: “In spite of his cosmopolitan spirit, he has always loved two nationalities above all others and equally well,—the Jewish and the Danish. He has looked upon himself as a sort of noble-born bastard; and with the bat of the fable he has said alternately to the mice, ‘I am a mouse’ and to the birds, ‘I have wings.’ He has endeavored to give his answer to the questions of the Jew’s place in modern culture.”  1
  Goldschmidt was born on the 26th of October, 1819. His early childhood was spent partly in the country, in the full freedom of country life, and partly in the city, where he was sent to school in preparation for the professional career his father had planned for him, in preference to a business life like his own. Goldschmidt took part in the religious instruction of the school, at the same time observing the customs of the Jewish ritual at home without a full understanding of its meaning,—somewhat as he was taught to read Hebrew without being able to translate a word of it into Danish. In the senior class his religious instructor let him join in the Bible reading, but refused to admit him to the catechism class; as a consequence he failed to answer a few questions on his examination papers, and fell just short of a maximum. This made him feel that he was ostracized by his Jewish birth, and put an end to his desire for further academic studies.  2
  At the age of eighteen he began his journalistic career as editor of a provincial paper, the care of which cost him a lawsuit and subjected him to a year’s censorship. Soon after, he sold the paper for two hundred dollars, and with this money he started the Copenhagen weekly The Corsair, which in no time gained a large reading public, and whose Friday appearance was awaited with weekly increasing interest. The editorials were given up to æsthetic and poetic discussions, and the small matter treated the questions of the day with a pointed wit that soon made The Corsair as widely feared as it was eagerly read. He had reached only the third number when it was put under censorship, and lawsuits followed in quick succession. Goldschmidt did not officially assume the responsibility of editor, although it was an open secret that he was author of most of the articles; publicly the blows were warded off by pretended owners whose names were often changed. One of the few men whom The Corsair left unattacked was Sören Kierkegaard, for whose literary and scholarly talents Goldschmidt had great respect. That The Corsair was under the ban of the law, so to speak, and had brought him even a four-days’ imprisonment, was a small matter to Goldschmidt; but when Kierkegaard passed a scathing moral judgment on the paper, Goldschmidt sold out for four thousand dollars and started with this sum on his travels, “to get rid of wit and learn something better.”  3
  In 1847 he was again back in Copenhagen, and began life anew as editor of North and South, a weekly containing excellent æsthetic and critical studies, but mainly important on account of its social and political influence. Already, in the time of The Corsair, Goldschmidt had begun his work as novelist with ‘A Jew,’ written in 1843–45, and had taken possession of the field which became his own. It was a promising book, that met with immediate appreciation. Even Kierkegaard forgot for a moment the editor of The Corsair in his praise. The Jews, however, looked upon the descriptions of intimate Jewish family life somewhat as a desecration of the Holy of Holies; and if broad-minded enough to forgive this, thought it unwise to accentuate the Jew’s position as an element apart in social life. It argues a certain narrowness in Goldschmidt that he has never been able to refrain from striking this note, and Brandes blames him for the bad taste of “continually serving his grandmother with sharp sauce.”  4
  Goldschmidt wrote another long novel, ‘Homeless’; but it is principally in his shorter works, such as ‘Love Stories from Many Countries,’ ‘Maser,’ and ‘Avromche Nightingale,’ that he has left a great and good gift to Danish literature. The shorter his composition, the more perfect was his treatment. He was above all a stylist.  5
  He always had a tendency to mysticism, and in his last years he was greatly taken up with his theory of Nemesis, on which he wrote a book, containing much that is suggestive but also much that is obviously the result of the wish to make everything conform to a pet theory. His lasting importance will be as the first and foremost influence on modern Danish prose.  6
 
 
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