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John Dury and the English Jewry

Rev. S. Levy

<plain_text><page sequence="1">JOHN DURY AND THE ENGLISH JEWRY. By the Rev. S. LEVY, M.A. John Dury was a seventeenth-century divine who set himself the am? bitious task of uniting the different sects of the Protestant churches. He recognised that there were grave difficulties to be overcome and obsti? nate prejudices to be removed before his ideal could be attained, but he firmly believed that those difficulties were not insuperable nor those prejudices ineradicable. So he became a wandering Churchman, turning up in the most unexpected places, making desperate efforts to realise his winsome and majestic ideal. In an age of intellectual complexity, religious unrest, and political change, people were attracted by his singular spirit of devotion, his simplicity of purpose, and his honesty of conviction. Many were persuaded by his genuine earnestness that his was a practicable scheme capable of early realisation. But if in some quarters he met with kindly encouragement, like all idealists he had to submit to a full measure of ridicule. Thus Prynne, with characteristic bitterness, calls him " the Time-serving Proteus and Ambidexter Divine." But as we know Prynne, we can sympathise with Dury. Like that of many a dreamer, Dury's life might have closed in the shadow of grief at the thought of a noble purpose unfulfilled had it not been for his never-failing optimism. He contended for victory, but amid and after defeat he refused to acknow? ledge himself vanquished. He never renounced his fond, hope, and even a few days before his death he was engaged in preparing fresh plans for the promotion of ecclesiastical peace. Itury was unquestion? ably a sincere and striking individuality, and in his peculiar way was quite a European celebrity.1 1 Masson's " Life of Milton," ii. 367. 76</page><page sequence="2">JOHN DURY AND THE ENGLISH JEWRY. 77 But his interest for Jews lies in the fact that in 1656 he wrote a long letter on the question whether it was lawful to admit Jews into a Christian Commonwealth. This pamphlet belongs to the class of literature known as " Cases of Conscience." 1 The object of the present paper is to trace the external history of Dury's pamphlet, and then to examine the internal value of his contribution to the discussion of the Jewish question in the time of Cromwell. To make our narrative consecutive, we must now introduce a con? temporary of Dury, viz. Samuel Hartlib. Samuel Hartlib was an amiable busybody, possessed of mediocre ability as a writer, who undeservedly enjoyed the friendship of some of the ablest men of letters of his day. He has been called the friend of Milton, which on closer examination of the real circumstances means that Milton befriended him. It says much for Hartlib's perverse cleverness that Milton should have frequently given him financial assistance, and afterwards practically have expressed his gratitude for that inestimable privilege. Hartlib was the progenitor of the modern autograph-hunter, but at least he could always count upon success. He could boast of the fact that great authors conducted a correspondence with him, which now only amounts to this, that they were possessed of sufficient courtesy and good nature to reply to his letters. Among Hartlib's so-called friends, besides John Milton, were two other Johns, John Dury and John Worthington, a great theologian, who for some time was Yice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge. In Worthington's Diary and Correspondence, which reflect and retain clear images of the lives of some of his contemporaries, there are to be found several com? munications from Hartlib which make mention of Dury's movements at interesting points in his career. The visit of Menasseh ben Israel to London in 1655 created some stir, and the literary world became interested in the mystic Rabbi. At the time of the Whitehall Conference, Hartlib lived at Charing Cross, and Menasseh was staying in the Strand.2 Without an undue stretch of historic imagination we may assume that Hartlib and Menasseh met more than once in their daily walks along the Strand. 1 See Transactions of the Jewish Historical Society, iii. 151. 2 Ibid., iii. 144 et seq.</page><page sequence="3">78 JOHN DURY AND THE ENGLISH JEWRY. In our mind's eye we can see Hartlib buttonholing Menasseh, and getting more out of Menasseh than Menasseh could get out of him. Hartlib hears of the proceedings at Whitehall, and with his usual inquisitiveness writes to Worthington for more definite information, which Worthington could well supply, as two of his friends, Ralph Cudworth and Benjamin Whichcote, were prominent members of the Conference convened by Cromwell. Hartlib's letter to Worthington is dated December 12, 1655, and is addressed from Charing Cross. "This day is the great meeting about the Jews, but I had rather hear the issue from your relations than give it to you. I suppose our friends that are members of it will write freely and impartially of that business."1 In addition to the problem raised by Menasseh's petition there was evidently a proposal put forward that the Karaites should be invited to take up their abode in England. So in the same letter to Worthing? ton, Hartlib refers to this idea, and in order to provoke a discussion and elicit Worthington's opinion, expresses himself in favour of it. "I am for Mr. Borel's Judaical studies and undertaking, and that the Caraites might be invited hither and encouraged, being such as begin to look towards their engrafting again." 2 While the agitation raised by Menasseh's enterprising mission was at its height in England, John Dury was at Cassel in Germany busily occupied in the promulgation of his own scheme. But nothing loth, Hartlib relentlessly pursues him by letter, and urges him to forward, with all possible speed, his views on the two questions then being dis? cussed in fashionable London society?the suggested invitation to the Karaites and the proposed admission of the Jews. Dury was a model correspondent. Burdened as he was with work in connection with his own plans, he made time to reply to Hartlib with? out delay, his letter being dated "Cassel, in haste, Jan. 8th, 1656." 1 Worthington's "Diary," i. 78. 2 Ibid.</page><page sequence="4">JOHN DURY AND THE ENGLISH JEWRY. 79 The receipt of this important communication constituted one of Hartlib's triumphs in drawing the opinion of a great mind, and Hartlib wasted no time in letting the world know of his possession of such a coveted pamphlet. Appropriately enough, Worthington was one of the first to receive a copy, as is shown in the following letter, March 10th, 1656.1 " I wish we were more modest in declaring for the Protestant cause, nor do I know of any course which Mr. Borel takes about the Caraites. I desired Mr. Dury to give me his advice about them and to resolve the Case of Conscience, which he hath done, as you will find in the adjoined packets, which is presented to your kind acceptance by him who con? cludes always with the subscription of Sr. "Yours in all possible duties of love and service, S. Hartlib." Dury's letter to Hartlib must have attracted a good deal of atten? tion.2 We know that during the Commonwealth authors were averse to having their favourable opinions of the Jews published. So there must have been an immediate demand for Dury's pamphlet, otherwise it is scarcely probable it would have been printed as early as June 27, 1656, with the following explicit title?"A Case of Conscience ; whether it be lawful to admit Jews into a Christian Commonwealth 1 Resolved by Mr. John Dury. Written to Samuel Hartlib, Esq. London, 1656." Having traced the origin of Dury's pamphlet on the Jewish question of 1655, we may now proceed to examine its internal worth. At the outset Dury expresses his doubts whether he has any right to answer a question which does not strictly come within his province. The admission of the Jews is a civil difficulty, not a religious problem. " It is a work which the civil magistrate takes wholly into his own consideration, to do or not to do therein, what he finds expedient for the advantage of the state; nor do I remember to have read or heard that the case hath ever been put to any of the churches, to be scanned as a matter of conscience." 1 Worthington, i. p. 83. 2 Dury was for a time erroneously regarded as the translator of "The Hope of Israel." See Lucien Wolf, "Menasseh ben Israel's Mission to Oliver Cromwell," p. 67,</page><page sequence="5">80 JOHN DURY AND THE ENGLISH JEWRY. Dury also urges that being away from England he does not possess sufficient data to guide him in his judgment, and it is only in deference to Hartlib's wishes that he feels justified in setting forth his views on the matter. "Although particular persons, to whom the judgment doth not belong, ought not to meddle beyond their line in the business, yet being required to contribute their assistance and advice how to frame things in a way towards them which is most expedient, they ought not to refuse it. Therefore I also shall put in my mite among the rest; although I am at a great distance for the present, and cannot know how things stand at home." The question of the advisability of inviting the Karaites is dismissed briefly, almost contemptuously, in a postscript. " To call in the Caraites would fright away these; for they are irre? concilable enemies. Time must ripen these designs and prudence may lead them on." The same postscript is worthy of notice as containing Dury's one definite reference to Menasseh ben Israel.1 "Our state doth wisely to go warily and by degrees in the business of receiving them. Menasseh ben Israel's demands are great; and the use which they make of great privileges is not much to their commenda? tion here and elsewhere. They have ways beyond all other men to undermine a state, and to insinuate into those that are in offices, and prejudicate the trade of others; and therefore, if they be not wisely restrained, they will in a short time be oppressive, if they be such as are here in Germany." Leaving this Parthian postscript, we turn back to the main letter, which is much more impartial, and much more favourable to the Jews. 1 For Dury's correspondence with Menasseh ben Israel, see Lucien Wolf, " Men asseh ben Israel's Mission to Oliver Cromwell," Introduction, xxiv.-xxvi.</page><page sequence="6">JOHN DURY AND THE ENGLISH JEWRY. 81 Dury resolves the question in the following way. He says that it is clear to him that, if the question be put in general terms concerning the lawfulness of admitting them, the answer cannot be other than affirma? tive. But if the question be made concerning the expediency of admit? ting them at such and such a time, in this or that place, upon these or those terms, then he supposes the great rules of expediency are to be observed. If in the circumstances of their admission nothing be found contrary to those rules, but all can be made (I.) consonant to the glory of God, (II.) to the edification of others, (III.) without danger of offence, and (IV.) without bringing a yoke upon the original inhabitants of the land, then their admission will be judged not only lawful but also expedient. If then the question be, how their admission may be so circum? stantiated as to answer the forenamed rules of expediency, he would advise thus :? I. To advance the glory of God by their admission, he conceives they must be restrained from some things, and may be fairly induced to some other things. The things from which they must be restrained are chiefly these:? (i.) Not to blaspheme the person of Jesus. (ii.) Not to go about to make proselytes. (iii.) Not to profane the Christian Sabbath. (iv.) Not to dishonour any of the ordinances of Christianity. The things whereunto they may be fairly induced are, as he con? ceives, these:? (i.) To hear Christians concerning the grounds which they have for Christianity. (ii.) To declare to Christians the grounds of all their Jewish faith and practice. (iii.) To avoid on both sides all contradictory disputes on those con? ferences, and not to trouble any of the weaker sort of either side with the matters to be handled therein, but only to set them afoot amongst a few of the Rabbies of each sjde in a friendly way. II. Then Dury shows how the second rule of expediency may be carried out, to advance the edification of the Christians by the admis? sion of the Jews. VOL. IV. F</page><page sequence="7">82 JOHN DURY AND THE ENGLISH JEWRY. III. In explaining how to carry out the third rule of expediency, to avoid offences between Jews and Christians, Dury says one way is for the Jews to conduct their worship in their own tongue. IV. Finally, Dury points out how to obey the fourth rule, by avoid? ing the temporal inconveniences which may arise from the covetous practices of the Jews, and their subtle capacity for trade. This is in brief the substance of Dury's reply, which shows clear argumentation, piquancy of thought, and crispness of expression. Dury's pamphlet will well repay perusal. Naturally in his wide travels Dury amassed a vast experience of the world and its ways. He had acute powers of observation, and thus we find him, for instance, giving interesting information about the habits of the Jews in Cassel and some of the towns in Switzerland. It would perhaps have been unfair to have expected Dury to have dealt with the question according to the inflexible standard of freedom of thought, and we ought freely to admit that the limitations proposed were, under the circumstances of the time, rather modest. It should not be forgotten that, if Dury found himself compelled to recommend certain restrictions, he yet advocated sufficient liberty to make it worth the while of the Jews to come back to England. I trust that this brief study in the byways of history has justified the few minutes given to it by this Society. I hope I have proved that we have not made a misuse of Re-settlement Day by giving a kindly thought to-night to the memory of a dreamer of the Church, whose ideal of Protestant union may have been a will-o'-the-wisp, a mere vague and sentimental aspiration, but whose conciliatory desire to destroy the causes of religious strife prompted him to take a wider view and advo? cate the toleration of the Jews in a Christian commonwealth, thus ren? dering his valuable aid in the possibility of the return of the Jews to England.</page></plain_text>