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Book Notes: The Secret Lives of Trebitsch Lincoln, B. Wasserstein

C. M. Drukker

<plain_text><page sequence="1">Book Notes The Secret Lives of Trebitsch Lincoln, B. Wasserstein (Yale University Press, 1988) viii + 327 pp. ?16.95. Trebitsch Lincoln's name is perhaps mainly remembered among older genera? tions as that of a Jew turned Christian turned Buddhist, who on the way served in turn as British Member of Parliament, German spy and Buddhist monk. He is now brought to life in this biography which combines rigorous historical scholarship with the delights of an enthralling and at times almost hilarious detective story. Professor Wasserstein was drawn to his subject by a chance conversation with Dr Geoffrey Wigoder followed by a search in the Bodleian Library and then in the Public Record Office. The fruits of this research and of the subsequent chase through a multiplicity of international archives are richly rewarding. Lincoln was born Ignacz Trebitsch in 1879 at Paks in central Hungary in a large traditional Jewish merchant family which fell on hard times while he was in his teens. By 1897 he was already a fugitive from justice following accusations of theft?gold watches seem to have exerted a particular attraction at various times?and embarked on a career of foreign adventure from which he never completely retired. Falling in with the Barbican Mission of the Society for the Promotion of Christianity among the Jews, he was instructed in Christianity in Hamburg in an Irish Presbyterian Mission. He was baptized there and became a Lutheran in 1900, and engaged in an unfruitful attempt to convert the Jews in Montreal, first under Presbyterian and then under Anglican auspices. Here he was already showing a capacity for ingratiating himself, gaining a somewhat precarious access to funding for his activities and finally falling out with his mentors and benefactors, one of whom later described him as 'thoroughly bad, a genius, and very attractive, but taking the crooked way always for choice'. He returned to England in 1903, enjoyed a brief spell as a curate in Kent and performed lamentably in an examination for ordinands in which his examiners wrote off his abilities in Classical languages as having 'no Greek, no Latin, his Hebrew bad even for a Jew'. It was in England in October 1904 that Trebitsch adopted the name of Tribich (sic) Lincoln, and took up the cause of temperance. He insinuated himself into the confidence of the social reformer Seebohm Rowntree, whom he served as a research assistant, travelling in Western Europe and exploiting the services and arousing the annoyance of the British Diplomatic Service (for whose long-suffering efforts to monitor, and yet remain uninvolved in, his future career of international intrigue the author shows undisguised and surely intemperate contempt). Lincoln?no doubt on the basis of his connection with Rowntree?had himself adopted as Liberal candidate for Darlington in 191,0, with messages of support from Lloyd George and Churchill, and served as 285</page><page sequence="2">Book Notes Member of Parliament without disinction until, on the verge of bankruptcy, he withdrew his candidacy at the General Election of 1911. There followed an excursion into international commercial speculation. He invested tens of thousands of other people's money in options, pipelines and equipment through a number of interlocking companies, and what the author pithily refers to as an assorted gallery of respectable and questionable associates. This venture into oilfields in Austria, Galicia and Romania inevitably failed. He then, in the Great War, sought employment with both British and German Intelligence as an agent or double agent, taking off for New York in 1915. He was extradited to Britain in 1916, and served three years in Parkhurst Prison for forgery, when his British nationality was revoked, and in 1919 he was deported. Lincoln's later career took on even more grandiose and indeed politically sinister dimensions. He was intimately involved in an inept attempt by extreme nationalist adventurers in Germany and elsewhere on the Continent to subvert the postwar regimes, in which Hitler and Admiral Horthy had walk-on parts; he was for a while in custody in Austria in 1921 on suspicion of fraud and treason; and in the following year he turned his attention to China, 'to start trouble in Central Asia', as he put it in 1925. The Far East was indeed the main focus of his later career, though punctuated by intermittent but vain efforts to have British governments accept him back, and offering his services to President Roosevelt to avert the Second World War, alternately vowing revenge on Britain by undermining her position in southeast Asia and seeking recon? ciliation. Undergoing an apparently mystical experience in Tientsin in 1925, he turned through Theosophism to Buddhism, in which he was ordained a monk in 1931. He spent the rest of his life largely wandering in the Far East, though with occasional visits to the West. The War, following Japan's invasion of China, caught him in Shanghai, where, after vainly appealing for world peace under pain of unspecified retribution from the masters of Buddhism, he reconciled himself to the Japanese with fulsome praise for the 'Greater Japanese Empire'. In touch at times, but without effect, with the Germans, and possibly with the Comintern, from his bases in Shanghai and Tientsin, he died in 1943, his latest publicity with the outside world an interview earlier that year with a correspondent of a Russian-Yiddish-English paper circulating among Jewish refugees in Shanghai who was charmed by his 'brilliant and magnetic personality'. Professor Wasserstein persuasively identifies his subject's problems as stemming from a manic-depressive personality. Whatever the psychological analysis, his biography of this restless and engaging being, for ever trying to overcome his personal deficiencies and financial straits by aiming for increas? ingly unreal roles on the stage of world affairs, must surely be the definitive work on Trebitsch Lincoln. CM. Drukker 286</page></plain_text>