28 APRIL 1939, Page 26


MR. LEWIS, having in his own expression become "Jew- conscious," has written a book in which he very decently bids

us treat Jews as if they were human beings. He discusses the nature and the motives of anti-Semites, the Jews in relation to modern nationalism, the Jews as intellectuals, the Jews as financiers, the Jews as anachronisms, and considers in detail whether they are arrogant, whether they are irresponsible, and whether they are dishonest. The book is in effect a parade of opinions. Mr. Lewis opines that the liberal tradition of the nineteenth century has gone never to return ; that everybody in a democracy thinks alike ; that Jews exercise a mysterious attraction for the anti-Semite, who usually numbers several Jews among his bosom friends ; that all the charges brought against the Jews, as, for example, that they are parasites, are decadent, are lacking in physical courage, are financially tricky, are intellectually inferior, or alternatively are intellectually superior, might with equal justice be brought against the gentiles ; that the paucity of first-rate creative genius among Jews is due to their lack of a national, ethnical and social background, or alternatively to their preoccupation with matters of business, or most probably, to the fact that the Jews as a whole share out the national stock of genius on equalitarian principles, so that, while the gentiles are divided into a few geniuses and many fools, the Jews maintain a much higher average level which is, nevertheless, unbroken by peak figures. (It is curious that a man should go to so much trouble to account for the alleged absence of " peaks " in a race which has produced Spinoza, Bergson, Einstein, Marx, Freud, Matisse, Stravinsky, Proust, Mendeissohn, Meyerbeer, Offen- bach, to mention the first dozen names that come at random into one's mind, when one asks oneself what great men were Jews.) Mr. Lewis's opinions do not cease to intrigue those whom they have long ceased to startle, and the book is pleasant reading enough. It is impossible not to applaud him for his vigorous defence of highbrow tastes against the defiant lowbrowism of the age—Mr. Lewis really does think that Bach and Shakespeare are more valuable than swing music and bedroom farces, and is not ashamed to say so—or to endorse the proposals which he summarises in a final chapter entitled "A New Deal for the Jew." The new deal, to be sure, is somewhat vaguely conceived, and is devoted mainly to historical retrospect and denunciation of Christian ecclesiastics, but the general demand that we should "make an end of this silly nightmare once and for all," and meanwhile offer the fullest and most generous hospitality to the new race of Jewish refugees, is, of course, beyond criticism. Unfortunately, the nature of the hospitality proposed is not described, but Mr. Lewis takes it for granted that "to us . . . the great part of these landless people in flight will in the nature of things come," and bids us "realise that the only course we can take, being what we are, is the humane one. And let us be thoroughly humane while we are about it."

All this is well enough ; nevertheless, I find it difficult to understand why Mr. Lewis should have written this book. The subject which he has chosen is so far from being Mr. Lewis's "cup of tea," that as one reads, one cannot escape a sense of incongruity, almost of frivolity, as one contrasts the problem with Mr. Lewis's contribution to its solution ; the former so appalling, the latter with all its goodwill, so incurably light-weight.

Mr. Lewis believes in reason. It is not, he tells us, for' the humane he is writing, but for the intelligent—although, to be sure, "it is extremely unintelligent not to be humane "- and it is to our reasons not to our emotions that he proposes to appeal. Yet the book contains very little reasoning, and testifies to the warmth of the author's heart rather than to the clearness of his head. Most of it consists of personal confes- sions; for example, Mr. Lewis likes intellectuals and dislikes " guardees." And, therefore? Therefore, "the Jew is conse- quently much more my cup of tea than the Anglo-Indian military gent, or the monocled Junker—or even than the most clean-limbed and golden-haired eurhythymist, I say it with all due respect for mens sana in corpore sano and "muscular Christianity.'" Quite so ! My tastes march with Mr. Lewis's, but I should not presume to suppose that the happy fact of

our agreement constituted an argument, or that in expressing what we liked and disliked, we were doing more than rationalising our interests, and, it may be, our limitations. Mr. Lewis again disapproves of Action for its own sake ; so, too, do I, but I cannot see that the fact of his disapproval constitutes a reason for or against anything at all.

With his romantic admiration of reason, witlr his bright style of writing, with his quips and his jokes, Mr. Lewis irresistibly reminds one of a figure from a Restoration comedy strayed all unknowingly into a harsh and alien world ; it is as if a beau dressed in tight breeches, cravat and lace ruffles, were to wander, twirling his wilful cane into a twentieth- century barrackyard. But the fact that the lights that once lit up such a figure as Mr. Lewis are going down, does not mean that he was not well worth illuminating.

C. E. M. JoAD.