This is a very rough post collecting what facts I’m able to uncover regarding a topic I was wholly unfamiliar with. It may serve as notes for something that I or even you write later on.
By the time Abba (sometimes spelled Aba) Gordin (1887-1964), publisher of The Clarion (1932), arrived in New York, Jacob Maryson had long been publishing his own translation work.
Y. A. Merison (aka Jacob Abraham Maryson) (1866-1941) was a Jewish translator/publisher in New York. I discovered him because of his “Der Eyntsiger un Zayn Eygentum”, which you can probably guess is St. Max’s book in Yiddish. It was published by Kropotkin Literatur Gezelshaft (Kropotkin Literary Society), New York (aka Nyu York) in 1916.
The Kropotkin Literary Society, was founded on the Prince Kropotkin’s 70th birthday (1913?). It was the intent of the society to publish Anarchist and Socialist literature in Yiddish.
According to Immigrants against the State: Yiddish and Italian Anarchism in America by Kenyon Zimmer, Maryson was appointed editor of “was the longest-running anarchist periodical in the Yiddish language” Fraye Arbeter Shtime, aka פֿרייע אַרבעטער שטימע (Yiddish); The Free Voice of Labor (English), but only lasted a few months because he refused to publish a pro-Russian Communist Party article. Abba Gordin, was a contributor to the journal. Michael E. Coughlin’s journal The Dandelion (1977) Vol. 1, No. 4 was a memorial issue when the Freie Arbeiter Stimme folded.
Paul Avrich notes in his Anarchist Voices that Hilel Solotaroff (1865-1921 was a jewish physician and anarchist on the East Side who both contributed to Fraye Arbeter Shtime and was an executive member of Kropotkin Literary Society.
In the same book Averich mentions bookstore owner/bibliophile Max N. Maisel as being a charter member of the Kropotkin Literary Society, and his distribution of Kropotkin, Thoreau, Wilde that “he published himself.” Maisel sold tickets to Emma Goldman lectures and distributed anarchist periodicals such as Free Society and Mother Earth. The Margaret Sanger Papers has a biographical sketch of Maisel that says “He published a compilation of Margaret Sanger’s New York Call series, What Every Girl Should Know (1916), and also published What Every Mother Should Know (1916). Maisel was also the publisher of the New York Tageblat, a Jewish daily, and translations of many Yiddish-language books.” Archive.org has a few scans of books he published in both English and Yiddish: https://archive.org/search.php?query=publisher%3A%22Max+N.+Maisel%22 There seems to be a scholarly biography in Hebrew here: https://www.jstor.org/stable/23568453?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents
One website had a list of other titles Maryson has translated, including links to digital versions:
- Di ersṭe printsipen fun a sisṭem fun sinṭeṭisher filozofye / (Nyu Yorḳ : Liṭerarisher Ferlag, c1910), by Herbert Spencer
- Di Ertsihung : gayst ig, moralish un fizish / (Nyu York : Mayzel, c1910), by Herbert Spencer
- Di flikhṭ fun ungehorkhzamḳayṭ tsum shṭaat / (Nyu Yorḳ : M. Mayzl, 1907), by Henry David Thoreau
- Fiziologie. Ershter teil. Der menschlicher kerper, geveben, beiner, un muskulen, fun Dr. J. A. Maryson. A kurs lektzies gegeben in der Yiddisher folks-universitet durch korrespondentz. (New York : Literarisher ferlag, [c1914])
- Fizyologye / ([New York] : Aroysgegeben fun der Edyuḳeyshonal ḳomiṭe fun Arb. Ring, 1918-1920)
- Fizyologye / (New York : Literarisher Ferlag, 1914-1920)
- Frayheyṭ / (Nyu Yorḳ : A. M. Yeṿalenḳa, c1909), also by John Stuart Mill and Chaim Zhitlowsky
- Muṭer un ḳind : a lehrbukh far der muṭer : ṿi zikh tsu fihren beys̀ʾn shṿangeren : un ṿi tsu hodeṿen dos ḳind … (Nyu Yorḳ : Mayzel eṭ komp., [c1912])
- Opshṭamung fun menshen : un, Der opḳlayb beshaykhes̀ tsu geshlekhṭ … / (Nyu Yorḳ : M.N. Mayzel, 1921), by Charles Darwin and J. Arthur Thomson
There is a documentary from 1980 called “The Free Voice of Labor: The Jewish Anarchists” by Steve Fischler and Joel Sucher that touches on some of this time period and milieu.
The following article touches upon the Kropotkin Literary Society, and the larger Jewish literary culture it existed in.
Yiddish Books and Their Readers
By A. A. ROBACK
(as published in The Nation, Vol. 107 No. 2780, October 12, 1918)
UNTIL recently the literary achievements of the Jewish people were the productions of their geniuses. The activity of the masses, or rather their appreciation and interest, were unconsidered. With the development of a Yiddish literature came the education of the lower classes; and it is their reaction to literature with which we are at present concerned. The genius of a nation manifests itself in the works actually produced by that nation; its taste, however, is discernible in the translations from foreign authors. There are comparatively few translations in Yiddish, and as late as 1890 Jules Verne was the only foreign author whose stories were given a Yiddish version, in the form of abridged adaptations. At one time, the Yiddish book market was flooded with such books of adventure. Zola and Tolstoy also enjoyed great popularity among the Jewish working classes, but the translations that were turned out could scarcely be regarded as anything more than abstracts. Even now only three or four of the latter’s novels have appeared unabridged in Yiddish, while Zola has not fared so well. Stories like his were those that all shopgirls and workingmen with any sort of intellectual pretchsions were expected to read; and in order to give them their fill of realism a portion of Boccaccio’s Decameron was Yiddished by the same “translator” and published by the same firm, whose main business consists in providing the older Jews with prayer books and other religious supplies.
It is characteristic of an abnormal literature like Yiddish that the great masters of all times have been totally neglected. Cervantes’s great work constitutes the sole exception. It is only within the last three years that small fragments of Homer have been translated—to appear only in the scarcely read anthologies of the “young” group of Yidlish poets. The literature of the ancient Greeks and Romans is an unknown quantity to the Yiddish-speaking public. A translation of Molière’s “Précieuses Ridicules” printed privately in England is all that the classical French period has contributed to modern Jewish literature.
The Golden Age of German literature is not much better off in the ghetto. It required the strenuous efforts of a typesetter not only to set but to translate and publish at his own risk “Werther’s Leiden.” When this book ran into the second edition, he was encouraged to translate Lessing’s “Emilia Galotti,” but this venture did not turn out successfully. The four volumes of Goethe that were published afterwards by the concern above referred to contain nothing but adaptations. The view of this publishing house seems to be that it is in many ways more economical for the Jewish reader to get the substance of a great book out of an abridgment or abstract.
Schiller, not to mention the lesser poets of his day, had until lately been ignored by Yiddish literature as if he had never existed. Recently, however, “Die Räuber” has been translated into Yiddish prose. Heine has been saved from total oblivion in the ghetto because of his Jewish racial affiliations and the scintillating brilliancy that runs throughout his works, both poetry and prose. Yet even Heine has received little recognition from his ghetto brethren. Many, no doubt, will be astonished to learn that, apart from a volume of abstracts, Shakespeare has been represented in Yiddish by a single work—an admirable translation of “The Merchant of Venice” by the young anarchist poet Bovshover, who died about three years ago in a hospital for the insane. Into Hebrew several of Shakespeare’s plays had been translated by a Jewish convert to Christianity whose initials appear on the title page of the books. The same author has also to his credit a Hebrew rendering of Milton’s “Paradise Lost.” In Yiddish . only the first few stanzas of this work are to be found in an old periodical. It is most important to note that the Hebrew reader and the Yiddish reader represent two totally different strata of Jewish society. One may safely venture to say that the “Vicar of Wakefield” will never be translated into Yiddish unless through some very peculiar circumstance; yet
Hebrew literature had a version of this quaint novel over twenty years ago. Of the other British authors, Defoe, Swift, with “Gulliver’s Travels,” George Eliot, with “Daniel Deronda,” Dickens, with “David Copperfield,” Scott, with “Ivanhoe,” and Kipling, with the “Jungle Book,” are the fortunate ones to be introduced to Yiddish readers. With the exception of the adaptations from Swift, these translations have been published in Russia, where a greater idealism is manifested in literary circles than is the case in this country. If we add to the previous list a sprinkling of Byron, scattered here and there throughout defunct periodicals, one of Conan Doyle’s detective stories, Olive Schreiner’s “Dreams,” and Oscar Wilde’s “De Profundis” and “The Soul of Man Under Socialism,” the list of British authors patronized by the Yiddish reader, or, perhaps better, by the translator, is exhausted. It is the modernistic trend that seems to have impressed the Yiddish-speaking intelligentsia—not the dreamy, highly symbolistic modernism of Hofmannsthal and Bahr, or even of Verlaine and Baudelaire, if the period of the latter is not too remote to be considered modernistic. Social problems of a psychological nature are what the Jewish intellectuel is seeking, and generally these problems nowadays are bound up with an erotic element. The intelligent ghetto Jew will not appreciate the fiction that commonly appears in our American magazines. His aesthetic sense differs widely from that of the average American reader, who is interested in thrilling plot, snappy dialogue, and cleverly turned
phrases, rather than in clear-cut pictures of the various characters, their psychology, and also the problems thrown into relief by the story. The more or less intelligent Jewish workingman will sacrifice the elaborateness of the plot for the psychological situation, and will, on the whole, react more critically to the details that go to establish its vraisemblance. That is why Russian realism makes such a strong appeal to the Jew. There are other reasons for the close affinity between the two literatures. The sojourn of six million Jews in Russia is no slight factor in the result, but this circumstance by no means tells the whole story. It does not explain, for instance, why Pushkin, Lermontov, Lomonossov, Gogol, and other first-rate Russian writers of the old school do not exist for the Yiddish-speaking reader, while Artzibashev’s “Sanyin” appears in two different Yiddish translations and is followed by a series of like “gems” by the same author. It may be said that Russian literature has exercised a tremendous influence upon the Jewish mind by dint of its realism. Most of the modern Russian writers are represented in Yiddish literature. Here we find Tolstoy, Turgenev, Chekhov, Dostoyevsky, Tchernishevsky, Yushkevitz, Korolenko, Andreyev, Tchirikov, Gorky, Kuprin, Veressayev, and Artzibashev. Linked with these is the Pole Przybyszewsky, four of whose works have been published in Yiddish, including an unexpurgated edition of his “Homo Sapiens.” Of the whole modernistic group of Slavic writers, Przybyszewsky is probably the most uncanny and the greatest sex-monger. Przybyszewsky’s plays are frequently staged by Jewish amateurs. Of the other Polish writers, Sienkiewicz and Elize Orzeszkowa have received some attention in Jewish literary circles, the latter because of her philosemitic sentiments. Ibsen’s hold on the ghetto élite is to be accounted for only by the social problems in which the Jew is so engrossed. Most of Ibsen’s problems fit in with the various “isms” rampant in the ghetto. Strindberg’s name, though not so widely known as that of Ibsen, is likely to become even more popular among the Jewish working people. Björnson, though universally more famous, is much less of a favorite than Strindberg, and is known to the Jewish reader only through two or three plays. Of contemporary Teutonic authors, Hauptmann, Sudermann, and Schnitzler appeal very much to the ghetto taste; but it must be emphasized that only certain phases of these writers have made their way into Yiddish literature. The symbolistic phase of Schnitzler or the picturesque side of Sudermann’s talent will scarcely ever be disclosed to the Yiddish reader. If a close search is made for the bond that unites the various foreign authors who have received prominence in Yiddish literature, it will be discovered that the links constituting the chain are criticism of society,discussion of social problems, psychological analysis, and lastly, the erotic note dominant in these works. The Yiddish newspapers in this country have not been slow to detect the general tendency of their readers; and for years they have traded on the undeveloped and one-sided intelligence of the ghetto intellectuels. The keen competition evinced by the largest radical Yiddish newspapers, some time ago, furnishes us with interesting psychological material in this regard. No sooner did one newspaper announce as a forthcoming serial one of the more voluptuous novels of Catulle Mendès, in its Yiddish title “Beautiful Arabella,” than its contemporary and close competitor made it known that an unexpurgated translation of Maupassant’s “Une Vie,” expanded as “The Life of a Woman,” would shortly appear in its columns. Again, when one of the newspapers, turning to Teutonic \
authors, resolved to entertain its readers with a translation of Elisabeth Schein’s “White Slave,” the other published serially a translation of Madame Boehme’s “Diary of a Ruined Girl.” We have already intimated that the Jewish intellectuel is impregnated with modernism. This seems to be a trait of the race in general, but particularly is this proclivity noticeable in the literature read by the Jewish proletariat. Psychological analysis in fiction is what the Jewish mind craves. Thus it is that Knut Hamsun, who is known to but few English readers, is widely read in Yiddish. The exaggerated introspection of his “Hunger,” so tedious to the average educated Anglo-Saxon reader, seems to delight the Jewish intellectual—Jewish and not merely Yiddish, because this work was translated into Hebrew some years before it appeared in Yiddish. Hamsun is the only foreign author whose writings are more accessible in Yiddish than in English, while Przybyszewsky and Artzibashev are close seconds in this respect. Maeterlinck’s name looms large in the ghetto, but his reputation there rests entirely on the “Blue Bird,” “Pelléas et Mélisande,” and one or two playlets. The attitude of the Jews towards American literature is most interesting. There is a general belief among them that American fiction is shallow, and very few Yiddish speaking Jews would condescend to read an American writer. It may be said without exaggeration that American literature is practically ignored by the children of the ghetto. Even such radicals as Walt Whitman and Jack London, though frequently referred to in articles, have not found favor in the eyes of Jewish translators or publishers. With the exception of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” Poe’s “The Raven” and several of his stories, Longfellow’s “Hiawatha” (in a splendid translation by the poet Yehoash), Bellamy’s “Looking Backward,” and a snatch of Mark Twain, Americans are not represented in Yiddish literature. There seems to
be a wide gulf between the literary taste of the American and that of the Jew. To determine what constitutes this gulf is a task for the ethnic psychologist. In passing to the literature of science and philosophy we note the same partiality and one-sidedness. Books are not translated because of their intrinsic merit, but rather on account of the radical ideas they are calculated to dissemimate among the masses. All the great autobiographies have been sacrificed for Kropotkin’s “Memoirs of a Revolutionist,” which came out in two different translations. Biology is represented, not by Darwin’s works, not by Lamarck, Buffon, or de Vries, but by Kropotkin’s “Mutual Aid.” Adam Smith and Ricardo are ignored for Lassalle, Proudhon, Karl Marx, and Kropotkin. Lassalle’s “Capital and Labor” (translated and edited by the present writer at the request of the Kropotkin Literature Society) is the only scientific work which is accessible in Yiddish and not in English. . When it is considered that out of about a dozen foreign scientific works extant in Yiddish four are translations of Kropotkin, the lack of perspective manifested by the literary leaders of the ghetto will be appreciated. In the face of the facts presented here, it is difficult to countenance the statement found in Nelson’s Encyclopedia (in the article on Yiddish) that “translations of scientific works are especially numerous.” The truth of the matter is that Yiddish is lamentably deficient in such translations. If the ghetto Jew reveals a modernistic bent in his taste for belles-lettres, his scientific sources, it must be said, are strangely antiquated. The reason is that the intellectual lights of the Jewish proletariat are stationary in their views, and are satisfied with what they read years ago. For them
biology has not advanced since Darwin, psychology has made no progress since Wundt’s début, Marx’s “Kapital” is the most recent achievement in economics, and Max Müller’s conclusions are the last word on the development of religion and cognate subjects. The physical sciences are represented in Yiddish, not by the works of Newton, Helmholtz, Lavoisier, and Flammarion, but by Bernstein’s series of popular books, which were of great service to the common people in Germany some forty years ago, but are entirely out of date at present. This translation, however, remains the only contribution to popular science in Yiddish. History centres around the French Revolution, and political Science is confined to Kautsky’s Erfurt Programme, Eltzbacher’s exposition of Anarchism, Kropotkin’s works, and a pamphlet (“Evolution and Revolution”) by the famous geographer and anarchist, E. Reclus. Bebel’s “Woman and Socialism” is about all that we find of sociology in Yiddish. Philosophical literature in Yiddish is in a still more deplorable state. We can exhaust the list of such books by mentioning Mill’s “Liberty,” Nietzsche’s “Thus Spake Zarathustra,” Stirner’s “The Ego and His Own,” and Spencer’s “Education” and part of his “First Principles.” Plato and Aristotle, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibnitz, Hegel, and Schopenhauer are, at best, mere names to intelligent Yiddish readers. The last two seem to be more popular names than the rest— the former because Marx is supposed to have been one of his disciples, and the latter on account of his pessimism, which chimes in so well with the medley of immature views entertained by the average Jewish radical. Let it not be understood that Yiddish is low in the scale of literatures. It possesses unmistakable vitality, but for the present only in its original productions. The late J. L. Peretz and Sholem Aleichem (S. Rabinowitz)—the pillars of Yiddish literature—were indubitably writers of the first rank; and if they have not received in non-Jewish circles the recognition they merited, the reason lies in the untranslatability of their art into foreign languages. This is not a limitation attaching to the genius of these two men, but results rather from the peculiar individuality and constant Separatism of the Jewish people. The translations of the ghetto do not compare in any way with its original productions. The causes are not far to Seek. The more or less assimilated Jews rarely read Yiddish. The devotees of Yiddish are generally of a radical turn of mind with a hankering after problem literature. Not abstract questions, but problems of the day, interest them; these interests have become a tradition, if not a cult, with them. To the ghettointellectuel, Marx is a more profound thinker than Kant and Spinoza combined; Kropotkin, the greatest savant of contemporary times, if not of all ageS. During the last few months, there have appeared translations of Engels and Marx. At the same time, the publication in Yiddish of Hamlet and Julius Caesar, of several volumes of Heine’s poems, of Grant Allen’s “The Woman Who Did It,” and Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Grey,” as well as a portion of Rolland’s “Jean-Christophe,” and three of Brandes’s works (on the French Revolutionary Period, Nietzsche, and Ibsen) would indicate that restricted radicalism is gradually giving way to a more catholic literary point of view among the intellectuels of the East Side. Incidentally it may be noted that the war has affected Yiddish literature comparatively less than the American book market. In fact, Yiddish literary productions have been increasing in number in spite of obvious drawbacks which the publishers face at present.