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Memorial Address: Wilfred Sampson Samuel

<plain_text><page sequence="1">(III) WILFRED SAMPSON SAMUEL, F.S.A., F.R.Hist.S. By Cecil Roth1 IHAVE never had laid upon me a more heavy or a more grievous task than to convey to you here in words, so that it may be set down for the benefit of future generations in our Society, a portrait of the lovable personality of our dear departed friend, Wilfred Sampson Samuel, who died on 13th December, 1958 in his seventy-third year. The superficial record of his life was simple. He was born in London on 29th November, 1886. Fatherless from an early age, he was sent abroad for part of his education and then entered the old established family business of musical instrument manufacturers ; when the family sold the business in 1929, he became an Underwriting Member of Lloyds, henceforth having more leisure to indulge in the occupations which lay nearest to his heart. He served in the First World War in the Middle East and in France?at first as a driver in the Honourable Artillery Company, later as an intelligence officer on the General Staff (attached for a time to the Royal Air Force)?and in the second, he enlisted at the age of fifty-two and served in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve until the end of the war, doing distinguished service in the Intelligence Service in Canada. He was an upright, generous and devoted member of the Anglo-Jewish community, active in many organisations ; and in particular giving of his time and energy without stint, in the tragic period of the Nazi persecutions, to assist refugees from the Continent, many of whom owed their rehabilitation as self-supporting and self-respecting members of society in this country to him. AH this suggests a personality, but not interests, out of the ordinary run. But as it happened, Wilfred had the antiquarian's instinct: and this changed the course of his life. His love for the heritage of the past, and the example of his much-admired cousin Lionel Barnett, brought him as a young man to membership of the Spanish and Portuguese 1 Delivered before the Jewish Historical Society of England, on 15th January, 1959,</page><page sequence="2">MEMORIAL ADDRESSES 211 congregation in London, to which he was henceforth devotedly attached. It was natural for him, with his passion for antiquity, to try to discover more about this body's earliest days, before it entered into occupation of the beloved synagogue in Bevis Marks. Pains? taking detective-work led to his first piece of historical research?his brilliant identification of the long-forgotten site in Creechurch Lane of the First London Synagogue of the Resettlement, the subject of his first paper before the Jewish Historical Society, in December, 1922. This, based upon a prodigious variety of scattered manuscript and printed sources, put the history of the Resettlement of the Jews in England on a new footing and established many hitherto unsuspected facts of considerable significance relating to this period, so that indeed it became forthwith one of the corner-stones of modern Anglo-Jewish historiography. In this work, he found invaluable guidance in the parish rate-books, which he was the first to use for such purposes, thus beginning a new technique in Anglo-Jewish historical research?unthought of before him, though now regarded as a common-place. He was particularly interested in families and family history ("mishpochology", as he hybridically termed it); and his realisation that many of the old Anglo-Jewish families had close connexions with the West Indian islands brought him to his study of Barbados Jewry, a most important addition to the history of the Marrano Diaspora. His other major contributions to scholarship were interrelated with one another and with his personal interests in much the same fashion. Thus, this business-man antiquary gradually extended the scope of his researches, always on a conspicuously solid footing, into new areas, and his activities into new spheres. His enthusiasm was, for example, largely responsible for the creation of the Records Committee of the Spanish and Portugese congregation, of which he was throughout its existence the most zealous member. As a lover of Anglo-Jewish books, and of books in general, he long served as Chairman of the Library Committee of Jews' College, besides being very active for many years on the College Council. His experience and guidance proved indispensable to us too at the time of the great exhibition in the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1956 in celebration of the Tercentenary of the Resettlement of the Jews in England. As the years went on, his work became more and more known in wider and in academic circles, as was testified by the fact that at the time of his death he not only enjoyed the distinction of being a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, and of the Royal Historical Society but was also a member of the committees of the Society of Genealogists, of the Council for the Preservation of Business Archives and of the Records Preservation section of the British Records Association, and of the British Archaeological Association. The modest antiquary had thus become well-known and popular in the world of historical scholarship. It was not, however, his writings or his work on Committees that made him so memorable a figure in our midst, but his personality. He combined a prodigious memory with a prodigal intellectual generosity. When one made a find in Anglo Jewish history?and in much besides?one told Wilfred; when one needed information, one asked Wilfred; when a young beginner embarked on a piece of research, he consulted Wilfred; when a mature scholar finished a book, he not infrequently submitted it to Wilfred, who would read it through with meticulous care, make corrections and suggestions, bring the writer into touch with others whose personal knowledge or researches might be useful to him, and from then on intermittently bombarded him with letters and, in later years especially, closely-written postcards giving further references, suggestions, or titbits of information that had occurred to him. Presidents of the Jewish Historical Society came and went: but at the centre of Jewish Historical</page><page sequence="3">212 MEMORIAL ADDRESSES research Wilfred Samuel presided, always ready with encouragement, counsel, informa? tion and guidance. His competence in research work was enhanced by a remarkable linguistic range based on his early training, his German and French being almost perfect, while his Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese were adequate for all practical purposes. I can testify, too, to his mastery of Italian, though Tuscans to whom I introduced him were mystified sometimes by his strong Corfu accent?for his first teacher had been that curious and disreputable savant, familiar in London a generation ago, Lazzaro Bellelli, who hailed originally from that island. Because of this linguistic facility, Wilfred travelled widely on business when he was a member of the family firm, thus further enlarging his Jewish horizons : and everywhere he familiarised himself with local life and antiquities, as well as with the local beverages : for he was in those days a good deal of a gourmet. Enor? mously hospitable, he was particularly happy to bring students and antiquaries into touch with one another in his home, or to show honour at his table to the scholars of the passing generation whom others had, perhaps, begun to forget. He was generous to a degree, but eschewed any sort of publicity. When, for example, the report of the survival of the Marranos first reached England, he unostentatiously defrayed through the medium of the Anglo-Jewish Association the expenses of Lucien Wolf's mission of enquiry to Portugal: and he was I think seriously annoyed with me when, later on, in my History of the Marrams, I deliberately broke down his anonymity. His modest and self-effacing character made him refuse indeed to become our President, although time after time we pressed him to honour us by consenting to act in this capacity. The only communal institution over which he actually presided was the Jewish Museum. He spoke of himself as co-founder of this institution, but he was more. At the time when the Jewish Communal Centre was established at Woburn House, in 1932, 1 wrote to Sir Robert Waley-Cohen suggesting that space should be set aside in it for a Jewish Museum, such as existed in other important communities : he replied unenthusiastically that if I and my friends would like to rent accommodation there for the purpose, it could no doubt be arranged on reasonable terms. Wilfred, however, in his generous fashion saw in this proposal the possibility of establishing for my benefit (for I was then without any permanent employment and he thought that I might have become Curator) a unified Jewish central library, embodying also a Museum. Accordingly, he threw himself heart and soul into the project, which so far as the Museum was concerned he brought to magnificent completion : he was not in fact co-founder, but founder. From now on, his antiquarian interests took on a new dimension. He gave up every Sunday morning (and much besides) to the Museum, developed it, cherished it, and became through experiment and experience a notable expert on Jewish ritual art in all its branches, but especially where anything Anglo-Jewish was concerned ?for it was on this aspect, together with genealogical materials relating to Anglo-Jewry, that the Museum inevitably concentrated, perhaps excessively, under his guidance. It is pleasant to record that at the close of his life he was able to see firm hope for the perpetuation of the institution in its own home, after an interlude of perplexity, though he could not witness the actual inauguration. As we remember all this, and so much more besides, all of us here must feel a sense of personal loss : and outside the immediate family none more than I myself. I had been on intimate terms with Wilfred for little short of forty years, since I was an Oxford undergraduate. We had a community of interests shared in quite the same measure in those days by few others of the younger generation, and as it happens our specialist and</page><page sequence="4">MEMORIAL ADDRESSES 213 linguistic competence was to some extent complementary. He chose me therefore as his companion for his archaeological and historical expeditions, some of which were in due course to have durable results in one form or another. Sunday after Sunday we would sally out together (and it was never I who paid the expenses) to inspect the Anglo Judaica in the old Jews' College library in Queen's Square House, or to visit ancient cemeteries and copy the inscriptions, or to verify synagogue sites and relics, or to trace dispersed archives, or to visit the custodians of fading tradition whose recollections might be of historical significance. I still have the notes which he insisted on my taking down on such occasions, paralleling his own, sometimes of considerable value. In 1924, when I was working in Florence on my first book, The Last Florentine Republic, he came to spend a couple of weeks with me there, and we pursued the same routine : no wine was left untasted, no site of Jewish interest in the vicinity uninspected, no synagogue unvisited, no former Ghetto street unexplored, no cemetery unscrutinised, no custodian unrewarded, and none of the aged Jewish survivors of a past generation unconsulted. And, if these aged survivors were in need, there would be the usual unostentatious generosity, continuing through my intermediacy even after Wilfred returned home. And I am one only of those who remember him and his ebullient personallity in some such context. Goodbye, dear friend. We shall not look upon your like again.</page></plain_text>

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