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Memorial Addresses in Honour of Past Presidents: Gustave Tuck

Rev. E. Levine

<plain_text><page sequence="1">Memorial Addresses IN HONOUR OF PAST PRESIDENTS (i) Gustave Tuck (1857-1942)1 By the Rev. Ephraim Levine, M.A. The writer of the Book of Ecclesiasticus tells us there is a time to praise famous men. He enumerates twelve various categories of such men who were honoured in their generation. Their name shall live and their memory shall endure. In conformity with this belief we do well to honour the memory of Gustave Tuck in the assembly of the Jewish Historical Society of England, which owes so much to his labours and enthusiasm. For he takes his place in the distin? guished roll of men who by their counsel and wise understanding enriched their generation. His Jewish allegiance gave the impetus to all the manifold activities which he crowded into his busy life. From this inspiration there flowed right through the community that ever-increasing river of usefulness which refreshed so many places in our religious, educational, charitable and social life. His life story is typical of many. Born and reared in a pious home, he was brought to this country as a child. His school days were soon over and he was drafted into the world of commerce. The business founded by his father, now world famous, was then in its infancy, and together with his brothers he was engaged in the task of building up and developing an industry which still maintains its supremacy in the department of commercial art. Those were hard and strenuous times involving much travelling around the country and testing the stamina of youth determined to succeed. Gustave Tuck often recalled those days of early struggle, grateful for the discipline which stimulated responsibility and self-reliance. He understood how true is the old saying that it is good for a man to bear the yoke in his youth. Industry wedded to practical common-sense and imagination carried him along the road to success. Material prosperity was the reward and with it came the determination to 1 An address given before the Society on 12th March, 1942. i85</page><page sequence="2">186 MEMORIAL ADDRESSES IN HONOUR OF PAST PRESIDENTS dedicate his wealth and his talents to the service of his people. The value of this service is writ large upon the pages of Anglo-Jewish history. When Gustave Tuck entered communal life it was by way of the synagogue. In those days no young man would have thought of any other avenue of introduction to service. Youth was content to satisfy its ambition in the administration of the religious life of the com? munity. Modern ideas tend to divert talent into other channels and the life of Jewry is often the poorer for the departure into civic and public affairs of zeal and ability that might have been enlisted in our service. This is not the place to speculate on the reasons which have brought about such a change. When history pronounces its verdict upon the community as it is, and the community as it was, it will be recognised that it was happier and healthier in the days when men gladly made the deliberate choice of Anglo-Jewry first. The work of the synagogue attracted Gustave Tuck in his youth, it remained with him to the end. For more than fifty years he was identified with the religious life of the community, first in North London and later in St. John's Wood. He took a large part in the foundation of the Stoke Newington Synagogue, to which he remained attached till his death and which for many years he represented on the Board of Deputies. For twenty-five years he was the dominating influence in St. John's Wood, where his bounteous generosity and genial accessibility made him a very beloved figure. Outside the synagogue his activities covered a wide field. There was no feature in our communal organisation which did not evoke his ready sympathy. He spread his labours over the whole scheme of charitable and social endeavour, dividing his time between interest in the education of children, concern for the welfare and discipline of the young, care of the aged and those stricken down by poverty or disease. Thus he was to be found in the counsels of the Infant Schools, in the pioneer work and the subsequent progress of the Lads' Brigade, in the administration of the Soup Kitchen, in the government of the Home for Incurables. It is a well-attested truth that the busier the individual the more time he finds to answer the</page><page sequence="3">MEMORIAL ADDRESSES IN HONOUR OF PAST PRESIDENTS 187 summons to service. In the days when appeals for the various needs of the community made their regular appearance he was one of the natural beggars chosen to promote their success by example and canvass. A generous donor himself, he had no hesitation in apply? ing to others. The letters that littered his desk in his office in Moor fields must have included some that concerned the affairs of his Company. Most of them seemed to deal with communal institutions or the personal requests of individuals. He never appeared to be too busy to lend an ear to the many callers who thronged his room. If Gustave Tuck had been asked to name the communal institu? tion that was nearest to his heart he would have confessed his love for the Jewish Historical Society. His interest dated back to the early years of the Anglo-Jewish Historical Exhibition in 1887, which laid the foundation of the Society. He brought no claim to historical scholarship to the work of the Society. No deep research into Anglo Jewish history will be associated with his name. But no man evinced a greater interest or gave more encouragement to the pursuit of historical research. His work was to be a sort of Maecenas to the student. Scholarship cannot achieve its aim without its patrons. The Society has been fortunate in two great men outside the domain of real scholarship?Frederic Mocatta and Gustave Tuck. Ere the sun of one had set the sun of the other had risen. Gustave Tuck worthily wore the mantle of Frederic Mocatta. He was elected Treasurer in 1905 and held the office till his death. His conception of that office was not that of a supervisor of accounts in preparation for the annual scrutiny of the auditor. He was a zealous guardian of the monies and a constant seeker after new avenues to explore. He became a recruiting officer for the Society, adding to its membership year after year. The numbers rapidly increased and the finances prospered. His careful invest? ments provided the proverbial nest-egg. He had no fear for the future, and even if he cautioned restraint when idealism sought to combat reality he was wise enough to know that publication in dignified form justified expenditure. In this connection it ought to be remembered how diligently he supervised the printing and pub</page><page sequence="4">188 MEMORIAL ADDRESSES IN HONOUR OF PAST PRESIDENTS lication of all the many volumes of the Society's Transactions and other special contributions. The imposing array of books that have appeared under its auspices reflects his wide knowledge of book production and his discriminating taste. And there are many of these which owe their appearance to his private purse. His long tenure of the Treasureship was of such value to the Society that it came to be regarded as a life appointment. But the wish was always being expressed that he should accept the highest honour the Society could confer. Time and again he was asked to become the President, but he shrank from accepting the honour. He was diffident in sitting in the seat that had always been the preroga? tive of the scholar. At last, in 1929, he was prevailed upon to yield to the entreaties of his friends and co-workers. He soon dispelled any doubts that may have existed as to the wisdom of the choice. There are some men who, in the cruel phrase of the ancient historian, were universally adjudged as fitted for the highest office till they had attained it and held it. Gustave Tuck belonged to that more select body of those whose fitness for office is not fully recognised till responsibility is placed upon them. In his Presidential Address? Looking Backward and Looking Forward?he outlined the history of the Society and its achievements and the possibilities of its future development. He showed the relative tasks of the scholar and the man of affairs indicating how one is the complement of the other. He was prepared to follow the policy he had adopted in his Treasurership, to provide the stimulus to research with the means to bring its fruits to the student and the layman. He promised to mark his period of the Presidency by some work which would remain as a signal memorial in Anglo-Jewry. That promise was speedily fulfilled. The story of the Origin and Growth of the Mocatta Library, Museum, and Gustave Tuck Theatre has already been written as one of the publications of the Society. One or two facts must be recalled to furnish the background for the scheme initiated by Gustave Tuck and carried out during his lifetime. The Jewish Historical Society founded in 1893 had no home of its own. The</page><page sequence="5">MEMORIAL ADDRESSES IN HONOUR OF PAST PRESIDENTS 189 original meetings were held in various places for the first 12 years. In 1905 Frederic Mocatta's large collection of Jewish books and other articles of Jewish interest came into the possession of the Society. The need for a setded home became apparent, and negotiations were at once commenced with the authorities of University College. The result was the acquisition of a room large enough to house the Mocatta library and collection, and a fund was raised to ensure its upkeep and to provide for the purchase of additional books from time to time. The management of the Mocatta Library and Museum was vested in a committee of 12, half nominated by the Society and half appointed by the College. The arrangements worked well. Within the space of a few years new problems appeared. The Society was again faced with a housing question in a more acute form. While the accommodation remained stationary the library con? tinued to grow. Various collections were presented or bequeathed, the Gollancz collection, the Israel Abrahams library of Judaica, and then a vast Lucien Wolf library. And other offers of books were made and accepted. How was so great and valuable a library, to say nothing of all the collection of Jewish art and antiquities, to be dis? played within the limited space of the Mocatta Library? Gustave Tuck had a project to solve this problem. He would build a new library, museum, and theatre, and endow it. Circumstances at the time contributed to the immediate realisation of this scheme. Uni? versity College was celebrating its centenary. The College had been founded partly by the influence of Jews and by Jewish money at a time when the older universities had their doors barred by theological tests. The relationship between University College and the Jewish community had always been cordial, and it was not difficult to enlist the support of the authorities for the rebuilding scheme to include adequate provision for the needs of the Historical Society. Gustave Tuck set to work and did not rest till he had brought his scheme to fruition. Plans were drawn up and approved and by the end of 1932 the new Library, Museum, and Theatre was ready. In the inter? vening period he had the great sorrow of the death of his wife, Esther Tuck, and he determined to commemorate her life and</page><page sequence="6">I9O MEMORIAL ADDRESSES IN HONOUR OF PAST PRESIDENTS devotion by associating her name with the new building. He was a proud man on the day of dedication when many tributes were paid to his zeal and generosity. He had forged a new link between Jewry and University and the provision made in the deed of agreement for the students of the College to have access to the library and to use the theatre for college lectures enhanced the debt which both the College and the community owed to him. For the next few years the new home of the Historical Society with all its amenities and its valuable contents (to which he was always adding) was one of the show places of Anglo-Jewry. Alas, its life has been short for the terrible raids over London in the early years of the war worked havoc on University College, and this Tuck Memorial shared the fate of so many other buildings and was laid in ruins. But the day of rebuild? ing will come and the old waste places will rise again to testify to the glories of the past. If we would honour the memory of those who built for us in days of peace we must see that the work goes on. For in that work are enshrined the ideals which defy the passage of time and transcend the power of evil. The material world can be destroyed, but the things of the spirit endure. To speak of his genius for friendship is not merely to use a current expression often misapplied. In the case of Gustave Tuck it is the most fitting description of one who loved his fellow men. He had the proverbial old Jewish home hallowed by Sabbath and Festival, and within he gathered around him a host of friends representative of every walk in life. Those who were privileged to enjoy the intimacy of his home will recall the genial host and hostess and the happy hours spent in the domestic circle. Nor is it inappropriate to recall his loyalty to those who served him and to those with whom he worked, or his interest in youth and his practical helpfulness in time of stress and anxiety. His many acts of kindness and considera? tion are gratefully remembered in many hearts. These tributes are often the post-mortem eulogy of great men and women, but they do no more than express without any recourse to hyperbole the true verdict which his generation will pass upon the life and work of Gustave Tuck.</page></plain_text>