Kitty Newman 1871

 

Christmas Day, 1957

 

Dear Mary,

 

I knew Cousin Kitty Newman as a child and even later, never well but well enough to recognize her and remember the stores about her. Since she had enough money to live comfortably, she was called eccentric rather than crazy. The principal manifestation of her eccentricity was a passion for cleanliness; she used to take six or seven baths a day and wash her hands every five or ten minutes. Eventually she succeeded in scrubbing her skin down to a condition resembling that of antique parchment. To psychiatrists today, compulsive washing of this kind is a familiar symptom and I think it has something to do with a guilt complex that one is trying to exorcise physically, but such things were not so well understood in my childhood and Kitty Newman's constant bathing was simply one of various peculiarities encountered here and there in the family, like old Uncle Tom Crutchfield's delight in eating cigars. We children used to watch spellbound as the unlit cigar gradually disappeared into his mouth and finally, in the course of perhaps two hours, vanished. And he never spat, at least not in the presence of ladies.

 

As to the relationship of Kitty Newman to us Chattanoogans, that is a much more complex subject and leads into the entire and ancient history of the Lovemans. One of our more distant cousins, Leonora Loveman of Nashville, wrote a history of the Lovemans once and I read it; but no one I know about kept a copy and I must go largely on memory (which thank God has not yet totally deserted me, though it diminishes every year). Leonora Loveman was in my mother's generation, the one before all of us survivors except Aunt Isma. She was quite rich and spend most of her adult years globetrotting and living among the highest intellectual classes on both sides of the Atlantic; her base was Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she and her lifelong friend Miss Caroline Norcross, with whom she lived, poured tea at rather famous Sunday afternoon salons. Longfellow, Dana and others equally great were regular attendants in their day, and when I arrived in Cambridge to go to Harvard in 1925 Leonora was dead but Miss Norcross (Miss Carrie, vulgarly miscarriage) carried on the salons in the old tradition and as a member of the family I was invited and basked in the reflected glory. Leonora represented herself as a writer, so as not to be at a disadvantage in her chosen circle, and she wrote at least two books. No published accepted them so she had them privately printed. One was a terrible historical novel about the Hungarian revolution of 1848, in which the Loveman family took part. The other was a history of the family, for which she did much traveling and research. I dipped only lightly into the novel but read the family history all the way through, because of personal interest, and much of what I say in this letter is my recollection of that book.

 

However, before the specific Loveman history can be  begun it is necessary to say something about the medieval religious and historical background. Religions were much simpler then than they are now, and so were social distinctions. West of the Urals and India all religions were Semitic, using the same Scriptures and differing basically on only one subject: the Mohammedans didn't believe a Messiah was ever coming; the Jews believed he was coming but hadn't yet arrived; and the Christians believed he had already come. Socially there were only nobles, who were very rich, and slaves, who were beasts of burden; the bourgeoisie or merchant and professional classes were just coming into being. Religious toleration was absolute except when a war came on and the government needed a scapegoat to divert the masses, in which case religious prejudice was invoked. The Arabs and Jews, being racially identical, lived in complete peace together under an agreement made in the first caliphate, by which the Jews were given 660 years to produce their Messiah and agreed to adopt Islam if at the end of that period they hadn't succeeded. Incidentally, many Christians of the first millennium made similar written agreements with the Moslems, to become effective if the Second Coming of Christ hadn't occurred by the year 1000.

 

Despite many statements by members of our family that the Lovemans were members of the Jewish nobility, entitled to bear the arms of David, there seems to be no evidence to support this. More likely they were among the early members of the middle classes as these classes emerged — but very rich and very well educated. They also seem traditionally to have had a very cynical approach to religion. They had been Jews, but when Mohammedanism became prevalent in their territory they promptly professed Mohammedanism and were officially Mohammedan when they went westward in the Turkish invasions and settled in Hungary. When the Austrians drove the Turks back, the Lovemans decided not to go along because the 660-year period was almost up; they had been secretly adhering to Judaism all the time and now they could expect to find more toleration from the Christians than from the Moslems, so they stayed where they were.

 

Hungary, like nearly every European country including England, permitted the practice of Judaism or any other religion but had one invariable rule: You couldn't have a government job, or be a lawyer or a notary public or a county clerk or a magistrate or anything else of the kind, unless you were a Christian. Toward the middle of the 18th century, one of the Lovemans was offered an important, hereditary government job. He promptly became a Christian, and took the job. His son, grandson and great-grandson all held this job. This created the Christian branch of the Lovemans, the branch to which we belong. Since it is impossible to know whether these Lovemans married Jewish or Christian girls, members of my family have not known for more than a hundred years what exact parentage of Jewish blood they may have.

 

However, Leonora Loveman established one thing. We have all heard stories of how the Jews treasure the purity of their blood and how they ostracize anyone who marries outside the "community," but this definitely did not apply to the Lovemans. Throughout the period in which the Christian Lovemans lived and enjoyed their official job in Hungary, they seem to have maintained their close relationship with the Jewish Lovemans who still adhered to the traditional religion. Very likely they all married their cousins, regardless of publicly professed religion. When the Hungarian revolt of 1848 came along, three Loveman branches participated, the one Christian branch and two Jewish branches. The cause was a lost cause and all three branches fled the country and settled in the United States; our branch, the Christian branch, in Rome and Dalton, Georgia; one branch in Nashville, which kept in close touch with the Chattanooga branch; and one branch in Birmingham and Montgomery, with which the Tennessee branches lost touch. (I neglected to say that the Georgia Lovemans settled in Chattanooga after the Civil War.) Despite the differences in their religion, which I think none of them took very seriously anyway, they congregated on all family occasions such as weddings, funerals, etc. If Chattanooga Lovemans went to a funeral in Nashville, it was in a synagogue, and if Nashville Lovemans went to a funeral in Chattanooga it was in a church, and no one seemed to pay it any nevermind.

 

The typical, cynical Loveman attitude toward religion was well demonstrated in the Chattanooga branch. They had been Jews and then they had been Mohammedans. In Hungary they had become Christians, and since Hungary was a Catholic country they were of course Catholics. When they reached the United States, which was a Protestant country, they immediately became Protestants. When they reached Chattanooga, where Doctor Bachmann was the most revered minister and the First Presbyterian Church the best church, they promptly became Presbyterians and members of the First Presbyterian Church. I am a member of the First Presbyterian Church, and so were my mother and grandmother and grandfather and great-grandfather before me. I hope I am not shocking you.

 

Now we get back to the question of Kitty Newman. The Georgia-and-Chattanooga branch of the Lovemans had six children in the first American generation, four daughters and two sons, of which my grandmother was the oldest and Aunt Sarah was the youngest. Of the two sons, Herman Loveman did not marry. D. B. Loveman married a Jewess named Eva Wolf but continued to profess Christianity, so that his son and daughters and grandchildren (Bernard, Ross, Flora, David, Billy, Hilda) were brought up as Christians. Three of the daughters married Christians. The two Chattanoogans you know — my grandmother and Aunt Sarah. The other was Aunt Fannie, who married a multimillionaire named Black, from Cleveland, a man who became an ambassador and endowed my mother's generation with high social standing in New York, Washington, and the European capitals, until he died and the high social standing died with him. The fourth sister in that generation, Aunt Jettie, married a Cleveland man whom she met while she was visiting Aunt Fannie — and by the most unlikely but fatelike chance in all the world, he was a Jew who did not even have any particular social standing in the very cultivated Jewish society of that city. From this untypical marriage that made Aunt Jettie Mrs. Newman there were born four children in my mother's generation: Cousin Kitty, the subject of this review; Louis Newman, who will live in my memory forever because precisely in September 1929 he took all the considerable money he had and bought an annuity that would pay him $30,000 a year for the rest of his life; Bernie Newman, who was not exactly unprosperous but who didn't have either Louis' money or his good sense; and Alice Newman, who was a beautiful and charming woman and who married a man named Albert Cohn, whom I knew, and who was just as much a cloak-and-suiter as his father-in-law Newman had been. I say this without prejudice; I liked him.

 

Now, if you can unscramble the various relationships from the above, you will observe that Kitty Newman was the niece of Aunt Sarah; she was the first cousin of Uncle William, my mother, and the others of their generation; she was the first cousin once removed of me, the Crutchfield boys, Sally and Betty, etc.

 

About the three who are contesting the will , their mother Alice Newman Cohn having been Kitty Newman's sister: Yes, I know or rather knew all three of them well. The two girls, Margaret or Peg and Janet, were in Simmons College in Boston while I was at Harvard. The son, Bob Cohn, I met when I visited in Cleveland (a classmate, not my cousin) while I was in college. Margaret was pretty, sweet, and inexpressibly attractive to me; I don't doubt that I am still a bit in love with her, not having seen her for almost exactly thirty years. She certainly married a prosperous if not a rich man and I don't doubt that she is contesting the will principally because someone shoved a paper in front of her and said "Sign here." Her sister Janet was one of the most ravishingly beautiful girls I have either met or seen pictured, and I am not without experience in the field. While she was in college she averaged two proposals a week, something three when she had late dates; somehow or other I was immune and did not fall under her spell, but I liked her and have no reason to think I don't still like her. I haven't seen her for twenty-three years. She married a man with enough money to give her a check for ten thousand dollars to furnish the house they were building, and again I must express doubt that she is contesting the will for selfish purposes. That leaves the son, Bob Cohn.

 

I knew Bob well enough, liked him, got along with him. He was a typical gambler, chiseler, adventurer, or what have you; but so was I in those days. Maybe I outgrew it and he didn't; maybe he did and I don't know about it. (I haven't seen him for thirty years, either.) Nevertheless my guess would be that he is the one contesting the will and getting his sisters to go along with him, and I'm sorry if I'm being unfair. My first impression would be that the whole thing could be settled by offering him a few thousand dollars, but I have total confidence in Tom and I know he will discover this if it is so.

 

One thing I am sure of: Cousin Kitty's nieces and nephew were no more devoted to her than were her first cousins, which I regret to say was not at all. They may have contributed money to her support, but if so it was in the nature of nuisance payments, and they were right: She was perfectly capable of pleading destitution when she had fifty thousand or so in cash that for whatever reason she didn't care to invade at the moment. I would like to do whatever I can to see that the money gets to whoever can best use it. I regret the inevitable condition in which it goes to whoever wins the lawsuit, regardless of need.

 

                  Yours with love,