But the militant editor of Ha-Shahan, who wielded his pen like a halberd, to deal out blows to those of whose views he disapproved, became as tender as a father when he set out to write about the people. His love for the masses whom he knew so well was almost boundless. Underlying their superstitions, crudities, and absurdities is the “prophetic consciousness,” of which they have never been entirely divested. The heder is indeed far from what a school should be, and the yeshibah is hardly to be tolerated in a civilized community; yet what spiritual feasts, what noble endeavors, and what unselfish devotion are witnessed within their dingy walls! Jewish observances are sometimes cumbersome and sometimes incompatible with modern life, but what beauty of holiness, what irresistible influences emanate and radiate from most of them! Under an uninviting exterior and beneath the accumulated drift of countless generations he discerned the precious jewel of self-sacrifice for an ideal. It was this sympathy and broad-mindedness, expressed in his Ha-Toeh, his Simhat Hanef, Keburat Hamor, Gemul Yesharim, and Ha-Yerushah that will ever endear him to the Hebrew reader.
Such, in brief, was the life of the man who bore the chief part in framing and moulding the Haskalah of the “eighties,” which was devoted to the development of Hebrew literature and the rejuvenation of the Hebrew people. Loving the Hebrew tongue with a passion surpassing everything else, he censured the German Jewish savants for writing their learned works in the vernacular, and was on the alert to discover and bring out new talent and win over the indifferent and estranged. Dreaming of the redemption of his people, he paved the way for the Zionistic movement, which spread with tremendous rapidity after his death. And his sincerity and ability were repaid in the only coin the poor possess—in love and admiration. Pilgrimages were made, sometimes on foot, to behold the editor of Ha-Shahar and the author of Ha-Toeh. The greatest journalists in St. Petersburg united in honoring him when he visited the Russian capital in 1881. And when he was snatched away in the midst of his usefulness, a victim of unremitting devotion to his people, not only Maskilim, but Mitnaggedim and Hasidim felt that “a prince and a mighty one had fallen in Israel!”
(Notes, pp. 322-327.)
The reign of Alexander III, like that of Nicholas I, was devoid of even that faint glamor of liberalism which, in the days of Alexander I and Alexander II, had aroused deceptive hopes of better times. During the thirteen years of Alexander III’s autocracy (1881-1894) not a ray of light was permitted to penetrate into Holy Russia. On May 14, 1881, the manifesto prohibiting the slightest infringement of the absolute power of the czar was promulgated, to continue unbroken till the Russo-Japanese war.