June 10, 2006

by Reb Yudel
Who was Lewis Browne?

Among the volumes I inherited from my grandmother is one called "The Graphic Bible," by Lewis Browne, featuring lush maps illustrating Bible history. Since I need a map for a book I'm working on, I'm looking into securing reprint rights, a process that entails some research. Along the way, I'm finding some interesting clues about a rabbi and writer who from the long-forgotten past of American judaism from the inter-war years.

Herewith, some very raw notes from my research.

The starting point is the description of the papers of Lewis Browne, 1897-1949, author, radio commentator, lecturer, and world traveler, from the Lilly Library manuscript collections of the University of Indiana.

The collection is organized into the following series: I. Correspondence; II. Diaries; III. Writings; IV. Articles; V. Illustrations; VI. Miscellaneous; and, VII. Printed matter. An inventory is available.

The correspondence is with novelists, poets, dramatists, journalists, educators, scientists, politicians, diplomats, physicians, army officers, artists, actors, lawyers, businessmen, and clergymen. Among the subjects covered are the American Socialist Party allied occupation of Austria, California election of 1934, communism, emigration and immigration, Hebrew Union College, Industrial Workers of the World, migration and persecution of Jews, Jews in Cincinnati, Jews in Mexico, pacifism, and World War II. There is extensive correspondence between Browne and his parents from 1914 to 1948 as well as with his sister, Rebecca (Browne) Tarlow from 1929 to 1946. A few letters were written by Myna Eisner (Lissner) Browne to Browne's parents during 1933. Browne also provides a provocative commentary about the life he led and the education he received at the Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati, Ohio, during the early twentieth century as well as his impressions of the renown leader of American reform Judaism, Rabbi Stephen Samuel Wise.

Via books.google.com, one can read a review of his book on Spinoza in the Theosophical Quarterly, which praises him for
a remarkable feat in writing three hundred and ninteen pages about Spinoza's life, for this life was almost devoid of incident, with the exception of the oustanding episode of his excommunicatino from Israel. But he has marshalled his facts with skill and has made the maximum use of his material.

I wonder how the biography compares to Rebecca Goldstein's new book; and whether Goldstein shares Browne's "scorn" for "the Zohar and other Kabbalistic scriptures," as the reviewer put it.

And then there is this fascinating tidbit from "Philippine Magazine":
"Speaking of cripples, do you know Lewis Browne is a cripple? Tubercular spine or soemthign -- all hunched over. He is the man who rote "This believing World." Must be English from the way he speaks. Lives in seclusion, and writes in bed. When i told him I live in the Philippines, he said he envied me and that he would like"
and there the excerpt ends.

Now here is an intriguing tidbit, particularly relevant to my tracking down permissions for the Graphic Bible, from a book on Mark Rothko:
After some advertising experience, he is commissioned in 1927 to draw maps and illustrations for the Graphic Bible... by Lewis Browne. When he is not credited in the 1928 publication, he sues Browne and publisher, MacMillan, for $20,000 in damages and a share fo the royalties. Though the case goes to the New York Supreme Court, Rothkowitz loses.
That certainly explains the high quality of the illustration! Finally, for now, comes this tidbit from The Fortunes of German Writers in America: Studies in Literary Reception, which refers to
Lewis Browne's biography, That Man Heine, of 1927. Browne, who had been a rabbi at the Free Syunagogue in Newark, had left the rabbinate to devote himself full-time to writing. His biography was conceived out of a lively conempt for literary criticism and scholarship, and shows it; it is vivacious but not very precise or accuate. Virtually alone among Heine biographers, Browne finds him enduringly influenced by his Hebrew School experience, which steeped him in Biblical lore and made his soul definitely that of a Jew... Browne's interpretation of Heine should probably be seen in the light of his reading of the modern Jewish situation, which was that the Jews should be excluded, by force if necessary, from their traditional commercial and bureaucratic occupations and enabled to take up the same variety of trades and vocations as gentiles. He thought Stalin a particularly positive force in this endeavor but also invested hope in the settlements in Palestine.


this is a little point: it's Indiana University, not University of Indiana (I'm an alum). (Totally randomly, I only stopped into the Lilly Library once, but it is a neat place with old books and MSS and such.)

Posted by: Drew Kaplan at June 12, 2006 1:57 PM

Lewis Browne's parents settled in London before moving on to Portland Oregon around 1910 with all their children apart from Lewis' oldest sister, Bessie, who remained in London with her husband Joseph Leton. This may explain his perceived English accent. He, sadly, pre-deceased his mother who lived until 1955. She achieved small local fame in 1952 when the birth of her great-great grandson in London was reported.

Michael Diner (great great nephew of Lewis Browne)

Posted by: Michael Diner at June 17, 2006 5:18 AM


Posted by: M Diner at June 17, 2006 5:25 AM

Lewis Browne was my third cousin. His father was the brother of Feigele Buchwach Clayman, my great-grandmother.In my childhood, my relatives compared me to Browne because of my deep philosophical questions. In 1977, I visited with his sister Rebecca Tarlow in Portland, OR. In her apartment in a retirement home, she showed me a room she kept as a shrine to her illustrious brother. I was very impressed with the shields and spears and other artifacts presented to Browne by African tribal chieftains. If I can gather enough material about his life, I would like to attempt a biography. Browne's unusual career should interest many readers.

Posted by: Donald Rosenberg at May 7, 2007 9:53 PM

Lewis was my great uncle. I'd like to get in touch with Donald Rosenberg. I'd appreciate it if he'd email me.


Posted by: Kim Mosley at November 11, 2007 9:52 PM

What happened with the lawsuit involving Mark Rothko about the illustrations for the Graphic Bible in 1928?

Posted by: Chris at April 19, 2009 10:48 PM

lewis Browne was the cousin of my mother. His mother Stisia was the eldest sister of my grandpa Moshe (Moses) Fish in Poland (now Ukraine). I'd like to get (buy) his book "THE BELIEVING WORLD" or any other book of his' or to have connection with his niece Pauline/

Posted by: Ruth Bachi-Kolodny at October 12, 2010 5:25 PM
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