LETTERIS, MEÏR HALEVI (MAX):
Austrian scholar and poet; born Sept. 13, 1800, at Zolkiev; died at Vienna May 19, 1871. He was a member of a family of printers that originally came from Amsterdam. At the age of twelve he sent a Hebrew poem to Nachman Krochmal, who was then living at Zolkiev. Subsequently he made the acquaintance of Krochmal, who encouraged him in his study of German, French, and Latin literature. In 1826 he entered the University of Lemberg, where for four years he studied philosophy and Oriental languages. In 1831 he went to Berlin as Hebrew corrector in a printing establishment, and later in a similar capacity to Presburg, where he edited a large number of valuable manuscripts, and to Prague, where he received the degree of Ph. D. (1844). In 1848 he settled finally in Vienna.
Letteris' chief poetical work in German, "Sagen aus dem Orient" (Carlsruhe, 1847), consisting of poetic renderings of Talmudic and other legends, secured for him, though for a short time, the post of librarian in the Oriental department of the Vienna Imperial Library. His reputation as the foremost poet of the Galician school is based on his volume of poems "Tofes Kinnor we-'Ugab" (Vienna, 1860), and especially on his Hebrew version of "Faust," entitled "Ben Abuya" (ib. 1865). He has exerted a considerable influence on modern Hebrew poetry. One of his best poems is his Zionistic song "Yonah Ḥomiyyah," which has become very popular. His numerous translations are of incontestable value, but his original poems are as a rule too prolix. His Hebrew prose is correct, though heavy.
Besides the works already mentioned the following deserve special notice: "Dibre Shir" (Zolkiev, 1822) and "Ayyelet ha-Shaḥar" (ib. 1824), including translations from Schiller and Homer, and poems by Letteris' father; "Ha-Ẓefirah" (Zolkiev and Leipsic, 1823), a selection of poems and essays; "Palge Mayim" (Lemberg, 1827), poems; "Gedichte" (Vienna, 1829), German translations from the Hebrew; "Geza' Yishai" (Vienna, 1835), Hebrew translation of Racine's "Athalie"; "Shelom Ester" (Prague, 1843), Hebrew translation of Racine's "Esther"; Spinoza's Lehre und Leben" (Vienna, 1847); "Neginot Yisrael," Hebrew rendering of Frankel's "Nach der Zerstreuung" (ib. 1856); and "Bilder aus dem Biblischen Morgenlande" (Leipsic, 1870).
He was the editor of "Wiener Vierteljahrsschrift," with a Hebrew supplement, "Abne Nezer" (ib. 1853), and of "Wiener Monatsblätter für Kunst und Litteratur" (ib. 1853).
- Fürst, Orient, Lit. 1849, pp. 633 et seq.;
- idem, Bibl. Jud. ii. 234;
- Zikkaron ha-Sefer, Vienna, 1869 (autobiographical notes by Letteris);
- Allg. Zeit. des Jud. 1871, p. 692;
- G. Bader, in Aḥiasaf, 1903;
- N. Slouschz, La Renaissance de la Littérature Hébraïque, pp. 51-53, Paris, 1902.