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David Gabay's 1660 Letter from London

Edgar R. Samuel

<plain_text><page sequence="1">David Gabay's 1660 Letter from London* EDGAR R. SAMUEL The Parnassim of the Portuguese Jewish community of Amsterdam had many functions during the seventeenth and eighteenth cen? turies. One of these was to act as the executors of the estates of deceased members. This situa? tion arose if a man died without heirs and left his property to the community, or if he left orphans and no relative to protect their interest. Such a testator might himself be the executor of other such estates, in which event these too would fall to the care of the gentlemen of the Mahamad. Thus in the course of time the archives of the community acquired business papers and account books which concerned the private affairs of various deceased individuals, and it is in just such a collection that the letter which we are going to examine has been found. For the present-day Portuguese Jewish community has very sensibly lodged its papers in the Amsterdam Gemeinte Archief, where they can be properly looked after and are now accessible to serious students. Moreover, Dr. W. Chr. Pieterse has pub? lished a most useful inventory of this archive. I went there during the summer of 1973 to inspect the private and business papers of the seventeenth century, because I am interested in commercial history, and while I was there, I obtained Xeroxes of some promising-looking letters from England. The subject of this talk is one such letter written in London on 9 July 1660 by one David Gabay, a young unmarried man who had recently started in business in London, to Manuel Levy Duarte, one of two partners in a recently established wholesale jewellery business in Amsterdam. Most of the letters which Manuel Levy kept were of the period between 1680 and his death in 1713. This one is exceptionally early and it was probably kept for sentimental reasons because of its refer? ences to his marriage. We know little of David Gabay. He appears in the 1660 informers' lists as one of six single Portuguese Jews living in lodgings with John Lingar, a master plumber in Greechurch Lane next door to St. Catherine's Church.1 In the letter he tells us that he had only been in London for a year and he traded in partnership with his brother in Amsterdam, whence he himself had apparently come. David Gabay's letter, which is the first of three sent by him to Manuel Levy in 1660, is written in Portuguese,2 and is in two parts. The first is a market report on the prospects for the jewellery trade just after Charles II's Restora? tion, and refers to Manuel Levy's own impend? ing marriage. The second deals with the general news of the day. Both parts are of historical interest. The information that jewellery was only worn by the nobility and gentry and that women of the middling sort never wore jewels is most intriguing. This was certainly not the case twenty years later, when such fashions had been influenced by the example of an extravagant Court. The second part of the letter, which is of the most general interest to us, concerns his rather more relaxed comments on the political news of the day, and in particular the need for the Portuguese Jewish community in London to win the King's protection. His remarks are not especially penetrating. He is a fairly junior member of the community. But they give us an unparalleled comment on the political situation of the Jews of London in 1660, which he does not sound unduly worried about. The letter reads as follows: London, 9 July 1660 Friend and Sir, In due course I received yours of 24th ult., to which I did not reply immediately because I now have a better basis to give the * Paper delivered to the Jewish Historical Society of England, 12 December 1973. 1 BM Add. MSS. 29868, published Trans. J.H.S.E., Vol. V, p. 6. L. D. Barnett, El Libro de los Acuerdos (Oxford, 1931), pp. 35, 84, and 69. 2 See Appendix. 38</page><page sequence="2">David Gabay's 1660 Letter from London 39 information, you requested in your letter, about the prices of pearls and the kind you can buy here, and also how much each kind of pearls by the ounce cost, to which I say, Sir, that at present there are no baroques at all in the country, because I went with a broker all this week, trying hard to discover them and we couldn't find any quantity anywhere, because whatever stock there had been had sold readily, except in the house of some wholesalers [drogistas] where I found them priced from ?10 to ?12 sterling. They are expensive and not worth bothering about. Sir, my opportunity for earning money disappeared last year when we decided to come here. Whatever we hear from you will be done. We shall give good attention to all your commissions whether in baroques or diamonds of which there was an abund? ance. Be patient, because you have no other choice. There should be a demand for pearls, which will enable you to attain your objec? tive, because this Court is ennobled by many lords and gentlemen, who used to be retired on their estates during the King's absence. Now, with his Restoration they will once again frequent the Court and, because of this, all the ladies are buying jewels, in order to visit the palace. The broker told me that if he had a pearl necklace costing as much as ?1,500 sterling, he had a Countess who would buy it. Thus, Sir, I send you notice, with this, of the prices they will pay for the different kinds listed. The most saleable of these would be of four grains upwards, because they are for people of substance who want jewels of value. The middling sort of women do not wear jewels of any kind. I will also give a list of some of the worked diamonds they will be able to sell with the approximate prices they will give for them. Of these, the tiny stone [o miudd] is more favoured for decorating jewels and then some large stones of seven to ten grains of a half or not so much3, and all must be roses. With diamonds as with pearls they must be perfect. If you find something of use in this list, you can send small part on trial, in partnership with my brother, to whom you will communicate this and the tiny diamonds could come by post making the packet of letters a bit thicker and it seems to me that this kind should sell readily. I await notice of all that you decide and in particular of your good health, which God increase, and may He give you long years in company with your bride and to your children, the end for which the marriage will be contracted, granting them in His time. I will be glad to know if the Beraha [Blessing] has been given yet, for I share in all your pleasures, and if you have not done so already, I ask you to let me know the day that it is to take place. Depending on your answer, I hope to give our friends a drink to celebrate the happy occasion. This is not to ask for thanks, for you know of my affection which is always supreme. I do no more than the obligation of a friend demands. And because a letter should not finish without discussing the news, and also as a diversion from business matters, I will say that his Majesty, whom God protect, up till now has not been crowned, nor does he expect to be, until he has made a sumptuous funeral for his father's body and he is to bring to justice some of those who were his judges?six or seven prisoners, who will undoubtedly perish, allowing that he has given a general pardon by public edict always reserving these heads for his ven? geance. The Portuguese gentlemen have not so far gone to speak to him. Presumably they will do so, by means of one of his favourites, or else by way of General Monk, to whom his Majesty this week gave the title of Viceroy of Ireland, and they have met him several times by way of a minister, his preacher, who always encourages us, not by an understand? ing of any kind on religion?much less so with us. God will help us with it and give us favour in his sight, for according to all they say, his good will is such, that there is no 3 Rose diamonds were made by sawing octahedral rough diamonds in half, either across the girdle or else from point to point, and then faceting them. David Gabay apparently means that he can only sell properly rounded gems made in this way and that flat roses made from cleavages will not do.</page><page sequence="3">40 Edgar R. Samuel need for any intermediary. [May] God par? don Carvajal, for if he was still alive, they would once again see his favour increased, as much by the very ready access he had here, as by the liberality which he showed on one of these occasions, and he didn't put himself ahead of money. But each of these gentlemen takes care to look after himself. Thus with a present which they wanted to make to General Monk, there was such an uproar and breaking of heads that they left the meeting without deciding anythingt I do not see how they will achieve anything. Sir, I have no more to add. It remains, very surely, in this letter to offer my services and to ask if I can work [for you], praying that you will give me the pleasure of exact [a miudo] news of your good health, which God perfect for many years, as He can, I am your friend of soul's desire. David Gabay4 The general political comments show an intelligent observer, but report nothing new. The comments on the situation of the Portuguese Jews are most interesting. General Monck, who was not a particularly religious man, at any rate by Cromwellian standards, had two chaplains, Thomas Gumble and John Price, who served as his political assistants and were duly rewarded?despite their Presbyterian background?with prefer? ment in the Church of England;5 both wrote about the events of the Restoration6 and neither, so far as I can find, mentions his relations with the Portuguese Jews, but perhaps that was too much to expect. One matter which David Gabay does not mention, and probably did not know about, was the start of negotiations for the King's marriage with Catherine of Braganca. Accord? ing to Bishop Burnet,7 who had it from Sir George Southwell, who later was British Ambassador in Lisbon for many years, the first suggestion of the Portuguese marriage was made to General Monck by a Jew, who was the King of Portugal's London Agent. This we know was Augustin Coronel. If Burnet was correct, the matter must have been bruited a month or two before David Gabay's letter. For by this time an ambassador, Fran? cisco de Mello, had arrived from Portugal. Now the fact that a London Portuguese Jew had initiated a project which could help to sustain Monck's high favour with the new King must have been a potent factor in his attitude and relationship with the other Jews. In any case Monck's star of fortune was then at its zenith. David Gabay's attitude towards Antonio Fernandes Carvajal is interesting. It tends to justify Lucien Wolf's description of him as 'the first English Jew.' One might have expected that Carvajal's close relations with Cromwell would have been an embarrassment at the Restoration, but, on the contrary, we find his talents, contacts, and leadership are sadly missed. David Gabay seems fairly optimistic about political prospects for the small Portu? guese Jewish community. The story of the present to General Monck is new, so is that of the squabbling Mohamad. Carvajal died before Monck marched south from Scotland, so one wonders what was the occasion on which he showed great liberality? Presumably the accession to power of Richard Cromwell. If nothing else, David Gabay's letter gives us a vivid impression of the political situation in London after the Restoration from the rather unusual standpoint of a Portuguese Jewish gemstone salesman. 4 Reference PA334/677/606-7, Amsterdam Gem? einte Archie/. 5 D.N.B. 6 Thomas Gumble, Life of General Monck (1671). John Price, The mystery and method of his majesty's happy restoration (1680). 7 M. J. Routh ed., Bishop Burners history of his own time (Oxford, 1823).</page><page sequence="4">David Gabay's 1660 Letter from London 41 APPENDIX David Gabay's letter in the original Portuguese Amiguo e Sr Londres A9 de Julio de 1660 Em seu tempo Receb' de vm de 24 do passado a que n?o dei Loguo Riposta pelo fazer agora com mais fundam10 sobre a informas?o que na sua me pede faca empre curar os precos de perolas e sorte que nesta se gastar?o como tambem em comprar perlaz de onsa de toda a sorte, a que diguo sr que os barocos n?o hay oje na terra, por que toda esta somana andey com hum corretor fazendo dilegencia por elez e n?o pudemos descubrir ninhua partida, por que alguas que ouve se vender?o todaz antes que lutiesse e somente em casa de algunz drogistas achey valor de des ou doze ? ests deles, est?o caros que n?o val a pena me terse neles, Sr meu a ocazi?o de ganhar di? se perdeo o anno passado coando detreminamos de dar aqui hua chegada, qui se o ouviramos feito, acharamos bcm em q enpregar, tanto em barrocos como em diamantez qui de tudo avya abundancia, paciencia pois ja n?o tern Remedio, e inda agora pode aver algum asserto nas perolas que na sua aponta, porque como esta corte esta ennobrecida de mtos ssres e fidalguos que estav?o Retirados em suas terras com a Auzencia del rey, agora com sua Restauras?o se vai outravez frequeritando, com que todas as ssras, para acuclirem a palacio compr?o Jojas, e me dixe o corretor que se tivera hum colar de perolas que custase ate 1500 Livras ests q tinha hua Condeza que o compraria asim sr meu que com esta mando a VM hua noticia dos precos que dar?o pelas sortes que nela v?o apontados, advertindolle que as mais vendaveis ser?o de 4 gr?os para sima por que como he para gente grave (que as mediocras n?o trazem ninhua sorte de Jojas) o que com? pr?o o querem de valor, tambem vay memoria de algunz diamantes lavrados que se poder?o vender com os precos q por eles dar?o pouco maiz a menos, e neste genero, o miudo he maiz apetecido para Goarneserem as Jojas e loguo algua pedra grande de 7 ate 10 gr?os que os do meyo o n?o s?o tanto e todos h?o de ser Rozas e tanto as perolaz como os diamantez sey?o em prefeis?o, se VM achar nesta memoria algua couza quelle pareca deixara proveito pode em conpa de meu Irm?o a quem VM comunicara esta, mandar algua partidinha para prova e os diamantes miudos podem vir pelo correo fazendo o masso hum pouco grosso que desta sorte me parece se n?o deitara dever, de que espero avizo de tudo o que VM obrarem, &amp; em particular de sua boa saude que Ds. augmente por largos annos em companhia da sra esposada dandolles o que a seus escollidos, consedendolles a seu tempo, o fim para que o matrimonio se contraey que estimarey saber se ha dado Ja Beraha por que em todos seos gostos sou eu participe neles, e se o n?o ha feito the o prezente; pesolle se sirva sinaiarme o dia que ha de ser, por que a seu bom logram10 pretendo dar aos amiguos hum beberite e isto n?o quiro que mo agradesa Pois conhese de my a afeis?o que sempre vetrice, e n?o farey mais que o que me pede aobrigas?o de amiguo, e por que se n?o passe toda a carta sem falar em novas como tanibe por divertir o entendimto de negocio direy como sua magd que Ds goarde the ao prezente se n?o ha coroado nem o pretende fazer ate fazer hum sumptuozo enterro a o corpo de seu pai e Justicar algunz que for?o Juizes dele de que est?o seis ou sete prezos que sem duvida peresar?o, que suposto ha dado perd?o geral por edito publico sempre Reservou estas cabesas para sua vingansa, os ssres portuguezes desta inda ate agora n?o lie h?o Ido falar, suposto que por via de algunz privados precur?o sua grasa como tambe pela do general monk a quem sua Magd deo esta semana o titulo de Vizoirey de Irlanda, e Ja se h?o Juntado com ele alguaz vezes p via de hum ministro seu predicador de que sempre nos animou n?o se entenderia con ninhua sorte de religi?o e com nosotros mt0 menos, el dio seya o que nos ampare e nos engracie em seus olios, que secundo todos dizem he sua Benignidade tanta que n?o se nesesitava de medianeiro algum, perdoe Ds o Carvajal que se ele fora vivo Ja ouver?o Grangeado sua graca, tanto</page><page sequence="5">42 Edgar R. Samuel pela mta entrada que tinha nesta, como pela Liberalidade que em hua destas ocasioinz mostrava que n?o seile punha poi diante o dinro, mas estes ssres cada coal atende a goardalo, pois para hum prezente que se quis fazer ao general monk, ouve tanto Ruido e quebradeiro de cabesa que se sair?o da Junta sem concluir nada, nem vejo Geito de se fazer nada, nao vejo sr que maiz me a larger maiz que hear mto serto ao que nesta seile ofrecer e me quizer ocupar pedindolle me regale com darme a miudo novas de sua boa saude que Ds prefeicoe por muitos annos como pode &amp; este seu amiguo dalma de deseja David Gabay ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I should like to thank Dr. Hart, the Director, and Dr. W. Chr. Pieterse, of the Amsterdam Gemeinte Archief, for their kind help and Mr. F. P. Walsh for correcting the translation. 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