An American in the Making: The Life Story of an Immigrant

By M. E. Ravage; Steven G. Kellman | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XV
The Trials of Scholarship

My radical interests had one salutary result immediately. I was not content to know at secondhand the great writers and thinkers whom I heard continually discussed. But in order to read them I must know English. I began my literary study of the language one memorable night by borrowing a one-volume edition of the complete works of Shakespeare from the Bond Street library. As soon as I got home I eagerly opened my treasure and turned to “Hamlet.” To read “Hamlet” in the original had long been one of my most ambitious dreams. But, to my disappointment, I found that I could not get more than one word in ten, and of the sense nothing at all. Shakespeare as a first reader proved a total failure.

It was then I decided to go to school, although I should mention that my inspiration came in great part from Abe Wykoff, whom I had shortly before met at a lecture. The chap was a cloak-maker with ambitions similar to my own. As we came out of the building he said: “Comrade, I am going to throw up the machine. I am sick of cloaks. Three months in the year you work overtime till midnight so that it nearly kills you intellectually and physically. And the rest of the time you are so hard up you have not a dime for the Zukunft. I am going to study dentistry. I had a little training at home, and I think I can pull through. Then liberty! Time to read and to think—to be a human being. I listened to Feigenbaum here the other night—did you hear him on ‘Dominant Figures in World Literature’?—and it made my heart sick. Goethe, Calderon, Racine, Dante, what do I know about them? Hearsay, nothing more. I want to get into them, but, good Lord! where is the leisure? A professional man is different. I hear that Gordin and the others are getting together to start a progressive school for workmen. You and I ought to look into it. It is to be called the Educational League.”

The new organization opened its doors toward the end of August, and Abe and I were among the first of its pupils. Tuition was entirely free, and there were no restrictions as to the choice of studies. All of the teachers

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An American in the Making: The Life Story of an Immigrant
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Chronology ix
  • Introduction xiii
  • A Note on the Text xxxiii
  • Contents 5
  • Introduction 7
  • Part One - The Alien at Home 11
  • Chapter I - The Prophet from America 13
  • Chapter II - The Gospel of New York 20
  • Chapter III - The Exodus 27
  • Chapter IV - To America on Foot 31
  • Chapter V - Farewell Forever 38
  • Part Two - The Alien Abroad 45
  • Chapter VI - First Impressions 47
  • Chapter VII - The Immigrant’s America 53
  • Chapter VIII - "How Do You like America?" 58
  • Chapter IX - Ventures and Adventures 66
  • Chapter X - Purifications 78
  • Chapter XI - The Ethics of the Bar 86
  • Part Three - The Education of an American 93
  • Chapter XII - Shirts and Philosophy 95
  • Chapter XIII - The Soul of the Ghetto 104
  • Chapter XIV - The Tragedy of Readjustment 110
  • Chapter XV - The Trials of Scholarship 118
  • Chapter XVI - Off to College 126
  • Part Four - America of the Americans 133
  • Chapter XVII - In the Mold 135
  • Chapter XVIII - The American as He Is 143
  • Chapter XIX - The Fruits of Solitude 151
  • Chapter XX - Harvey 159
  • Chapter XXI - The Romance of Readjustment 168
  • Part Five - Postscript- Twenty Years Later 175
  • Chapter XXII - Jeanne’s Sentimental Pilgrimage 177
  • Chapter XXIII - And My Own 189
  • About the Editor 213
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