The Rise of David Levinsky

Author: Abraham Cahan

Chapter I

WEEKS went by. My desolation seemed to be growing in excruciating intensity.

From time to time, when I chanced to recall some trait or trick of Dora’s, her person would come back to me with special vividness, smiting me with sudden cruelty. The very odor of her flesh would grip my consciousness. At such moments my agony would be so great that I seemed to be on the brink of a physical collapse. During intervals there was a steady gnawing pain. It was as though the unrelenting tortures of a dull toothache had settled somewhere in the region of my heart or stomach, I knew not exactly where. I recognized the pang as an old acquaintance. It had the same flavor as the terrors of my tantalizing love for Matilda

My shop had lost all meaning to me. I vaguely longed to flee from myself

There was plenty to do in the shop and all sorts of outside appointments to keep, not to speak of my brief trips as traveling salesman. To all of which I attended with automatic regularity, with listless doggedness. The union was a constant source of worry. In addition, there was a hitch in my relations with the "marriage broker." But even my worrying seemed to be done automatically

Having forfeited the invaluable services of Chaikin, who now gave all his time to his newly established factory, I filled the gap with all sorts of makeshifts and contrivances. An employee of one of the big shops, a tailor, stole designs for me. These were used in my shop by a psalm-muttering old tailor with a greenish-white beard full of snuff, who would have become a Chaikin if he had been twenty years younger. Later I hired the services of a newly graduated cloak-designer who would drop in of an afternoon. Officially the old man was my foreman, but in reality he acted as a guiding spirit to that designer and one of my sample-makers, as well as foreman

I was forming new connections, obtaining orders from new sources. Things were coming my way in spite of myself, as it were. There was so much work and bustle that it became next to impossible to manage it all single-handed.

The need of a bookkeeper, at least, was felt more keenly every day. But I simply lacked the initiative to get one

While I was thus cudgeling my brains, hovering about my shop, meeting people, signing checks, reading or writing letters, that dull pain would keep nibbling, nibbling, nibbling at me. At times, during some of those violent onslaughts I would seek the partial privacy of my second-hand desk for the express purpose of abandoning myself to the tortures of my helpless love. There is pleasure in this kind of pain. It was as though I were two men at once, one being in the toils of hopeless love and the other filled with the joy of loving, all injunctions and barriers notwithstanding

One October evening as I passed through the Grand Central station on my way from an Albany train I was hailed with an impulsive, "Hello, Levinsky!"

It was Bender, my old-time evening-school instructor. I had not seen him for more than three years, during which time he had developed a pronounced tendency to baldness, though his apple face had lost none of its roseate freshness. He looked spruce as ever, his clothes spick and span, his "four-in-hand" tastefully tied, his collar and cuffs immaculate. His hazel eyes, however, had a worn and wistful look in them.

"Quite an American, I declare," he exclaimed, with patronizing admiration and pride, as who should say, "My work has borne fruit, hasn’t it?"

"Well, how is the world treating you?" he questioned me, after having looked me over more carefully. "You seem to be doing well."

When he heard that I was "trying to manufacture cloaks and suits" he surveyed me once again, with novel interest

"Are you really? That’s good. Glad to hear you’re getting on in the world."

"Do you remember the two books you gave me—Dombey and Son and the little dictionary?"

I told him how much good they had done me and he complimented me on my English

He wanted to know more about my business, and I sketched for him my struggles during the first year and the progress I was now making. My narrative was interspersed with such phrases as, "my growing credit," "my "in my desk," "dinner with a buyer from Ohio," all of which I uttered with great self-consciousness. He congratulated me upon my success and upon my English again. Whereupon I exuberantly acknowledged the gratitude I owed him for the special pains he had taken with me when I was his pupil

He still taught evening school during the winter months. When I asked about his work at the custom-house, which had been his chief occupation three years before, he answered evasively. By little and little, however, he threw off his reserve and told, at first with studied flippancy and then with frank bitterness, how "the new Republican broom swept clean," and how he had lost his job because of his loyalty to the Democratic party. He dwelt on the civil-service reform of President Cleveland, charging the Republicans with "offensive partisanship," a Cleveland phrase then as new as four-in-hand neckties. And in the next breath he proceeded to describe certain injustices (of which he apparently considered himself a victim) within the fold of his own party. His immediate ambition was to obtain a "permanent appointment" as teacher of a public day school

He was a singular surprise to me. Formerly I had looked up to him as infinitely my superior, whereas now he struck me as being piteously beneath me

"Can’t you think of something better?" I said, with mild contempt. Then, with a sudden inspiration, I exclaimed: "I have a scheme for you, Mr.

Bender! Suppose you try to sell cloaks? There’s lots of money in it."

The outcome of our conversation was that he agreed to spend a week or two in my shop preparatory to soliciting orders for me, at first in the city and then on the road

Our interview lasted a little over an hour, but that hour produced a world of difference in our relations. He had met me with a patronizing, "Hello, Levinsky." When we parted there was a note of gratitude and of something like obsequiousness in his voice


Related Resources

None available for this document.

Download Options

Title: The Rise of David Levinsky

Select an option:

*Note: A download may not start for up to 60 seconds.

Email Options

Title: The Rise of David Levinsky

Select an option:

Email addres:

*Note: It may take up to 60 seconds for for the email to be generated.

Chicago: Abraham Cahan, "Chapter I," The Rise of David Levinsky in The Rise of David Levinsky (New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1903), Original Sources, accessed June 4, 2020,

MLA: Cahan, Abraham. "Chapter I." The Rise of David Levinsky, in The Rise of David Levinsky, New York, Grosset & Dunlap, 1903, Original Sources. 4 Jun. 2020.

Harvard: Cahan, A, 'Chapter I' in The Rise of David Levinsky. cited in 1903, The Rise of David Levinsky, Grosset & Dunlap, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 4 June 2020, from