< Back

Leone da Modena and His English Correspondents

Cecil Roth

<plain_text><page sequence="1">Leone da Modena and his English Correspondents 1 By Cecil Roth, M.A., D.Phil. IN 1926 I presented before the Jewish Historical Society of England a lengthy paper on Leone da Modena and England, subsequently published in its Transactions.2 It might have been rationally imagined that this exhausted all that could be said on the subject. But the student knows that this is always unlikely, as fresh material even on the most recondite topic is constantly coming to light. In 1943, the Bodleian Library acquired a collection of letters addressed to John Seiden, which I consulted with some eagerness in the hope of tracing the letter from Modena mentioned in the list of the former's correspondence in the British Museum.3 I failed in my quest, and as a matter of fact I do not believe that this letter ever existed. But on the other hand I found some other unexpected material on the relations between the two. A fair number of the letters in this collection were written by Sir William Boswell, English Ambassador at The Hague, and a close friend of Selden's. The most interesting is one of 20th September 1636, which begins as follows :? Bodleian Library, Oxford. Ms. Seiden Supra, 108 : f. 250-1. Letter from Sir William Boswell to John Seiden : The Hague, 20th September 1636. Sir You will receive heerinclosed letters from B. Elzivere (a very great servant of yours, printer of Leyden) concerning (as he tells mee) a Reimpression he hath in hand of your De Jure Successionum apud Hebreos, wherein you were pleased to take notice of mee above my merit, &amp; upon my occasion of Leon Modena Rabi of the Jewes Synagogue in Venise, whom I gave for dead long since of the last great plague (about four yr. since in those parts) until about 4 months I received a letter from him brought me by one of his owne tribe, about 6 mo : after date thereof, in which how sensible the old blade is of being quoted by so worthy a hand, with what confidence he speaks of atteyning immortality &amp;c. (all which, meethink, well become him) you will perceive by copie thereof, which I send herein, because fallen accidentally with my eye as I received this other of Elzevire for you and referring to the same argument, especially to put you in mind, that if you shall think good to require his service in any kind, which you knowe him propre for ... I shall take your command for a favour . . . In fact, Boswell did not enclose a copy of the letter received from Modena, as he said he would, but the original, in the Italian rabbi's well-known hand. This must, I think, be the letter from 'Leon Modena Rabi Hebreo, Italice,' noted in the British Museum list of Selden's correspondence; the signature corresponds almost exactly to this phrase. The occasion for writing it is indicated in a conceited little passage 1 Paper read before the Jewish Historical Society of England on 17th January 1946. 2 Leone da Modena and England, in Trans. Jew. Hist. Soc. of Eng., xi. 206-225. The translation of the Hebrew letter published there for the first time is reprinted with slight emendations in my Anglo-Jewish Letters, pp. 44-46. There is no need for me to go here again into details regarding Modena's life and personality. I may however call attention to two studies that have appeared since my article?Umberto Cassuto, Leon Modena e Vopera sua in Rassegna Mensile di Israel, 1933, viii (with very full bibliography) and A. Ottolenghi, Leon da Modena e spunti di vita ebraica del Ghetto net secolo xvii in Rivista di Venezia, July 1929 (both offprinted). Modena's Hebrew poems have been now edited by S. Bernstein in a scholarly edition, Philadelphia 1932. 3 Cf. reference in my article cited above, note 12. e 39</page><page sequence="2">40 LEON DA MODENA AND HIS ENGLISH CORRESPONDENTS in his Hebrew Autobiography, Hayyejehudah : c So that it should be known (not that it is dependent upon my merit) what is my reputation, in June 1634 there reached my hands a book printed in London in 1631, the title of which is Joannis Seldeni . . . de successionibus . .' On page 60, he says as follows : 'We learn this from Leon Mutinensis the Jew, who is today as I have heard Archisynagogue in Venice . . 1 Modena must have pored over the compliment for many weeks, as it was only on 8th September that he penned his epistle to Boswell. It reads, in translation, as follows : Very illustrious and excellent Sir :? In very truth do I affirm and swear, that neither passage of time nor greatness of distance has ever been able to diminish within me the memory of your worth and qualities, which I enjoyed when you were here and I was your master in our language, though your pupil in all else. I have always asked your news of English gentlemen, for I have met many, and I have heard with the utmost pleasure of your happy condition. Now there has been shewn to me a most worthy work of a certain most excellent Mr. John Seiden on succession and heredity according to us Jews, in which I see that I am named through the relation of your worship in an honorific manner, more than my lowly merit deserves. Since this has added for me even greater obligation to your kindness, I desire to take the opportunity to do you humble reverence with this letter, begging you to continue me in your recollection and to present such compliments as you can on my behalf to that most worthy author who has hon? oured me so much, as I do to you who are the cause thereof. This book of mine about our Rites I have revised, and a few days ago I gave a copy of it to a gentleman from your country named William Spenser. Moreover, at the request of certain friends and patrons (for I did not care about it myself) I am thinking of publishing it this year, and have the intention of doing so in Paris in order to avoid censorship here &amp;c. I beg your worship to honour me with a letter informing me of your good health; and if you could let me have a copy of one of the above-mentioned works of Mr. Seiden I would consider it a peculiar favour. You could transmit everything at present through the household of the most excellent Venetian Ambassador, who will be so good as to let me have it. I am now an old man, in my sixty-fifth year, disconsolate through the death of grown-up sons and through great worries ; nevertheless, I console myself by the many books I have printed and published to the world, and other works, with which I think that I have attained some portion of immortality. Whatever I may be, I crave always your favour, and recommend myself to you with every reverent affection^ Your worship's affectionate servant, Leon Modena, Jewish Rabbi. Venice, September 8th 1634. The letter, as will have been seen, adds a fair amount to our knowledge of Leone da Modena's relations with England, as well as of his naive personality. It is now pretty certain, I think, that the Hebrew letter to an English scholar published by me2 was not directed, as I had imagined, to Boswell. Their relations had quite a different genesis, Modena having been the other's teacher in Hebrew while he was in Venice and remaining in intermittent contact with him for many years after. The date of their intimacy can be fixed with precision. As it happens, the 'autograph' copy of the Riti Ebraici formerly in Boswell's possession and used by Seiden is preserved (as I have now dis? covered) in the Library of St. John's College, Cambridge ; it bears Boswell's name and 1 Autobiography, ed. Kahana, p. 68. (The original of these few lines is in Italian). 2 Transactions, ut supra.</page><page sequence="3">LEON DA MODENA AND HIS ENGLISH CORRESPONDENTS 41 the note : Ex Dono authoris, 6 Sept. 1628, Venet.1 Incidentally, this is not the only 'original' MS. of the Riti Ebraici in existence. What happened to that given to Mr. William Spencer (whoever he may have been) in Venice in 1634 I do not know. But in 19291 found in the records of the Venetian Inquisition, in the State Archives at Venice, a copy submitted by Modena himself in the spring of 1637 (after the news of its unauthor? ised publication at Paris had reached him) to the local Tribunal of the Holy Office, in order to avoid any possible complications.2 It is unnecessary to go into the details again; but it may be observed that the account given in the present letter does not tally in every respect with the story so apologetically recounted to the Inquisitors, just as the copy presented to Boswell and used by Seiden differs in some important details from that which he submitted for inspection by that redoubtable body. Another English pupil and acquaintance of Modena's who has now emerged was the learned William Bedell, later Bishop of Kilmore and Ardagh, the translator of the Bible into Gaelic. From 1607 to 1610, he was chaplain to Sir Henry Wotton at Venice, and there he too took lessons from the famous Jewish polymath in the Ghetto. To quote his biography by Gilbert Burnet (The Life of William Bedell, D.D., ed. 1736, pp. 16-7) The most considerable addition he made to his learning at Venice, was in the improvements in the Hebrew, in which he made a great progress by the assistance of R. Leo, that was the Chief Chacham of the Jewish Synagogue there : From him he learned their way of pronunci? ation and some other points of Rabbinical learning; but in exchange of it, he communicated to him, that which was much more valuable, the true understanding of many passages in the Old Testament, with which that Rabbi expressed himself to be highly satisfied : And once in a solemn dispute he prest his Rabbi with so clear proofs of Jesus Christ being the true Messias, that he, and several others, of his Brethren had no other way to escape, but to say that their Rabbis everywhere expressed the Prophecies otherwise, according to the Tradition of the Fathers. By R. Leo's means, he purchased that fair Manuscript of the Old Testament, which he gave to Emmanuel College; and as I am credibly informed, it cost him its weight in Silver. The suggestion that Bedell vanquished Modena and the other Jews in theological discussion need hardly be taken seriously. It was characteristic of religious contro? versialists of all ages that they regarded a pugnacious reply as blasphemous, and a mild one as an acknowledgement of defeat?and only one side of the story is given here. The Biblical codex referred to in the foregoing passage, copied in Rome in 1285 by Abraham ben Yom-tob haCohen, is still preserved in the Library of Emanuel College, Cambridge?a fine manuscript, bound in three volumes.3 It is not the only relic in England which demonstrates how Modena interested himself (one may suspect, not altruistically) in bibliographical matters of this sort. The official Catalogue of the Hebrew MSS. in the Bodleian Library in Oxford opens with a description of a fine biblical codex, which formed part of the great Seiden bequest in 1659. It bears on one 1 I.e. Venetiis ('at Venice'). I inspected this Ms. in the spring of 1942, and my friends Dr. J. L. Teicher and Mr. Raphael Loewe have examined it for me subsequently. It is written in two hands?one possibly Modena's but the other quite distinct, the second writer being a non-Jew, not familiar with Hebrew. 2 Cf. my article, Leon de Modern, ses Riti Ebraici, et le Saint Office ? Venne in Revue des Etudes Juives, 1929, pp. 83-8. 3 It is briefly described in M. R. James, Catalogue of MSS. at Emanuel College, Cambridge, 1904, p. 5. I am bound to say that the fine illuminated opening page appears to me to have been inserted from another MS. of different provenance,</page><page sequence="4">42 LEON DA MODENA AND HIS ENGLISH CORRESPONDENTS of the fly-leaves a lengthy signed inscription in Italian in Modena's hand testifying to its authenticity and antiquity.1 It is dated 1628, and it may well have passed into Selden's possession similarly through BoswelTs instrumentality, though, if so, it is perhaps a little curious that he did not record the fact. It is to be hoped that the price paid was not excessive, for there can be little doubt that some former owner (certainly not Modena) had by manipulating the colophon, added a century or so to the apparent age.2 Yet another English pupil of Modena's whose name is recorded, is a certain Samuel 'Sladius' (presumably Slade), who, writing in Venice on 1st August 1608, mentions the other as his teacher in Hebrew,3 but I have been able to trace nothing else of the relations between the two. The extent of Modena's English contacts thus seems to be a good deal greater than I had hitherto imagined. Sir William Boswell, Sir Henry Wotton, Bishop Bedall, William Spenser, Samuel Slade, the anonymous Hebrew correspondent, the various English gentlemen of whom he asked news of the first-mentioned?it is a not unimportant roll.4 Whether Seiden ever entered into personal correspondence with him is still uncertain. But from this same collection of letters it is clear that the latter was in touch with Menasseh ben Israel, from whom he purchased on at least one occasion a consign? ment of books.5 That such intellectual intercourse had some influence in smoothing the way for the readmission of the Jews to England is not to be doubted. In the preparation of the ground for that epochal event, there can be no doubt that scholars on both sides played their part. APPENDIX Bodleian Library, Oxford : Ms. Seiden, Supra 108. folio 241 Molto III" &amp; Eccmo Sre Con parola di verit? graffermo e giuro, che corso di tempo ne lontanza di sito ha hauto mai forza di farmi scemar la memoria del suo valore e virt?, de qual godei essend* ella qui con occasione 1 'La presente Bibia mano scritta e stata veduta da me diligentemte e trovato translato fidelisso scritta con ogni acuratezza, cosi de punti come di accenti, l'anno 5064 alia creatione del mondo, con il Massored piccolo, e l'esposition di Rabi Salamone sopra il Pentateucho, et in ogni dubio de stampa si puo ricorrere a questa che ^ l'antichit? e realt? e verissima e bona. 10 Leon Modena Rabi heb? in Venetia. 11 di 8 8bre 1628 de Christi che e 5388 (sie) della creatione del mondo secondo il computo de gl'hebri. 3 Ostensibly, the MS. (or at least the books of Daniel, Ezra and Nehemiah) was written at Soria in Spain in 1104 : Modena, more plausibly, read 1304. But there has been an erasure, and it is not easy to see what was the original. There are however some curious features about the MS. The second books of Samuel and Kings are designated ?x*rap w ?D?a?? w which is obviously a translation from a European tongue, and the book of Esther is called 'Ahasuerus.' Another manuscript that had belonged to Leone da Modena (purchased by him from the bookseller Joshua Perugia, of Mantua, in 1643) was included in the collection of Hebrew books brought together by Isaac Faraji which was presented by the English Parliament to the Cambridge University Library in 1647. (Schiller-Szinessy, Catalogue, i. 70-2). But it cannot have been in Modena's hands for more than a month or so, if it is true that Faraji brought together his own collection in this same year : see Trans. Jew. Hist. Soc. of England, viii. 62-77. 3 Zeitschrift fur hebr?ische Bibliographie, xx. 73. 4 Personal and epistolary intercourse with Modena was paralleled by academic interest in his writings, instanced e.g. by the Diary and Correspondence of Dr. John Wortleigh, i. 355, iL 3, 70, 71. ? MS. Seiden Supra 108.</page><page sequence="5">LEON DA MODENA AND HIS ENGLISH CORRESPONDENTS 43 d'essere maestro nella lingua nostra e discepolo in ogn'altra dottrina. Ho sempre domandato di lei a Sri Inglesi, che molti me ne sono capitati, et ho udito con sommo mio contento del suo felice stato. Hora m'e stato mostrata un' opera degnissima d'un eccmo I.C. Sr Joan. Seldeni delle successioni et heredit? secondo noi hebrei, in quale ho veduto esser io nominato per relazione di V.S. Illre con maniera d'honore, piu ch'a mai (?miei ?) bassi meriti convenga. II che havendomi aggionto Obligo maggiore alle sua benignita, ho voluto con occasione del presente far con questa humilissima riverenza, pregandola continuare nella ricordanza che tiene di me, e render quelle maggior gratie che si puome, a quel eccmo Sr Autore, che tanto mi ha honorato, come io faccio a lei che n'e stata cagione. Quella mia opera de' nostri Riti ho meglio rifformata, et alii giorni passati ne diedi copia ad un gentiluomo di la nomato il Sr Guglielmo Spenser, &amp; a preghi d'amici padroni (ch'io non me ne curava) credo quest' anno darla alia stampa, e penso farlo far in Parigi per fuggir qualche censura di qui &amp;c. Supplico V.S. Illre farmi di qualche Sua awisandomi del suo ben stare, e se mi potesse fcr capitar una di quelle opere sudette di quel Sr Seldeni mi sarebbe singolar gratia, che tutto potr? dar al presente di corte dell Excmo Ambasciatore Veneto che per sua bont? ne la fara havere. Io son invecchiato in et? di 64 anni, sconsolato per morte de' figli grandi e travagli grandi, pur mi consolo con molte componimenti che ho stampato e pub licato al mondo, et altre opere con quali penso haver conseguito qualche parte d'irnmortalit?, e qual mi sia vivo sempre bramo della sua gratia, alia qual con ogni affetto riverente mi raccomendo. Venetia, alii 8 Settre 1634. Di V.S. molto 111" Aff. mo Servre Leon Modena Rabi Heb?</page></plain_text>