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Menasseh ben Israel's Study in London

Lucien Wolf

<plain_text><page sequence="1">MENASSEH BEN ISRAEL'S STUDY IN LONDON. By LUCIEN WOLF. It is surprising how very little we know about Menasseh ben Israel's life in London. He dwelt here two years?from the beginning of October 1655 to the end of September 1657?and during the whole of that period we have scarcely half-a-dozen authentic glimpses of his personality either in connection with, or distinct from, his publie work. We see him in a brief entry in the minutes of the Privy Council, wait? ing outside the Council door on October 31, 1655, in order to present " some books," doubtless the first printed copies of his " Declaration to the Commonwealth of England," to the Lord President. We hear in a muffled sort of way of his discussing with the Protector the " great straits" of the Jews in Poland, Lithuania, and Prussia, and towards the end of December, we see him visiting Nieuwpoort, the Dutch Ambassador, and explaining to him the scope of his mission. Dr. Walton met him once and they talked of the Massorah. Mr. Thorn dike called upon him at the instance of Archbishop Ussher, but did not find him in a very amiable mood. He met Dr. Cudworth and gave him a Portuguese MS. embodying the Jewish views on the Messiah controversy. For the rest we have two English letters of his addressed to Cromwell telling of the death of his son, of a long and expensive sickness from which he (Menasseh) had suffered, of his desertion by all his friends, and of his poverty and indebtedness. And this is all. Of course we know that he wrote Jewish pamphlets? possibly two?in London, and signed one Jewish petition to Cromwell, but these documents, although the most important facts connected with his mission, throw no light on his private life during the time 144</page><page sequence="2">manasseh ben israel's study in london. 145 he spent here. The picture of him pleading before the Whitehall Conference, which is the most familiar scene in the Re-settlement story and the one incident in which Menasseh's personality seems to identify itself strikingly with his historical mission, is, of course, entirely without warranty. This lack of information is very strange when we consider how great was the noise made in England by Menasseh's mission, how numerous must have been the people who were anxious to meet him, how many friends he had of the lettered class, both in this country and abroad, and how industriously he himself wielded his pen. And yet there is not a private letter of his extant dated from London, not a scrap of his writing, outside 'two bald passages in the Vindicice Judeorum, in which his mission is referred to; not a record by any? body of how he lived here, how he looked, what he did or what he said. I stated just now that the two pamphlets Menasseh published in London, the " Declaration " and the Vindicice, shed no light on his private life. This is not strictly accurate. Both contain just one scrap of information. They tell us, if not very specifically, at any rate approximately, where he lived in London. The " Declaration" is dated from " the Strand over against the New Exchange," and the Vindicice adds the detail that in the house thus indicated he possessed a " study "?" my study in London." I have often wondered in my daily perambulations of the Strand whether it would be possible to follow this clue up and to ascertain exactly where Menasseh's home was situated. From time to time I have made such notes on the subject as seemed likely to assist in the solution of this problem, and these notes, rough though they be, I propose now to submit to this Society. In the first place it must strike one as strange that Menasseh should have lived in the Strand at all. The Dormidos, who were his relatives, and all his other co-religionists then residing in London, with many of whom he was on friendly terms, and whose cause he was really pleading, lived at the other end of the town?in Leadenhall Street, Bishopsgate Street, Bevis Marks, Duke's Place, Shoemaker's Bow, Gravel Lane, all within easy access of Creechurch Lane and St. Helen's, where the two meeting-places or secret synagogues of the vol. iii. k</page><page sequence="3">146 MANASSEH BEN ISRAELIS STUDY IN LONDON. community were located.1 One would have imagined that he would have sought hospitality in this district rather than in the fashionable Strand where he was amongst strangers. His choice of a residence could not have been due to a desire to ignore the little Marrano com? munity and thus to prevent public attention from being directed to it. This might have applied to Carvajal and the other crypto-Jews, who had long been resident here, but not to Menasseh's brother-in-law, David Abarbanel Dormido, who, by his petitions to the Protector had already revealed himself as a Jew, and in whose house in St. Helen's, Samuel ben Israel had probably lived before the coming of his father. Moreover, within six months of his arrival in England, the veil had been lifted from the Marrano congregation in the city, and Menasseh had been associated publicly with Carvajal, De Caceres, and other lead? ing members of the community in a petition to the Protector.2 Never? theless, he continued to live in the expensive Strand, "over against the New Exchange," until he left England. We have, I think, in this apparently trivial fact, a side-light of no little interest on the character and importance of Menasseh's mission. The Strand, as I have said, was then the great fashionable highway of London, the Piccadilly of its day, where the great nobles lived and where all distinguished strangers who desired to be near the centre of official life, sought lodgings. The New Exchange was a sort of Burlington Arcade, where all that was gayest and most gallant and frivolous in London habitually betook itself, and the houses opposite were much in request by wealthy and eminent visitors to the metro? polis. In 1655, of course, this part of the Strand had been robbed of much of its gaiety and, as we may read in the Rate Books of the parish, the hand of the Puritan killjoys had borne heavily on its amusements. But it was still the centre of such fashion as remained, if only because of its proximity to Whitehall, and the houses opposite the New Exchange had lost none of their reputation. Menasseh was no doubt lodged there because his mission was of an official character, official not only as he represented the Jews?of which, by the way, we have no evidence?but as having been invited by the British Govern? ment. We have in the State Papers several casual references to an 1 See "Crypto Jews under the Commonwealth." Trans. Jew. Hist. Soc, Vol. I. p. 74. 2 Ibid., p. 76.</page><page sequence="4">MANASSEH BEN ISRAEL'S STUDY IN LONDON. 147 invitation having been given to Menasseh by Thurloe and to an agree? ment between Cromwell and the Jewish Rabbi, in pursuance of which he came to England.1 The fact that Menasseh was lodged in the Strand, and in the particular part of it from which he addresses his pamphlets, confirms the suggestion that he was the guest of the Protector. It is, at any rate, certain that he was not financed in Amsterdam, and it can be shown to be very unlikely that his expenses were paid by the London Marranos. Now let me say at once that the approximate localisation of Menasseh's " study " is by no means a difficult task. We know exactly where the New Exchange stood. That notorious building, the scene 1 Cal State Papers, Dom. III. Dec. 17, 1652; VIII. Sept. 14-24, 1655.</page><page sequence="5">148 MANASSEH BEN ISRAEL^ STUDY IN LONDON. of the famous fracas with Don Pantaleon Sa, where Ann Clarges sold wash-balls and gloves before she married Monk and began to dream of a duchess's coronet, where all the libertines in town flocked to ogle the fair stall-keepers, and every corner touched some note in the gamut of adventure and intrigue?that building was erected on the site of what afterwards became the Adelphi. If then we stand with our backs to the row of shops between Coutts' Bank and the Tivoli Music Hall and look straight in front of us, we may be certain that one of the houses within our area of vision is either the former home of Menasseh ben Israel or a substitute for it which has been reared on its site. So far I am bound to confess that I have found no conclusive evidence which enables me to identify either the house or its site. The investigation, however, has not been altogether barren, for it happens that among the houses still standing on what was once, " over against the New Exchange," are four which externally have remained unaltered since Menasseh's time, and hence we may at least see what type of house it was in which he resided. These four houses are Nos. 413, 414, 417, and 418. They stand in pairs, and are divided by one modern house, the easternmost pair being Nos. 413 and 414. They date from early in the seventeenth century, and no doubt formed part of a whole row of houses of a similar type, the erection of which marked an epoch in the architecture of the Strand. Perhaps the one house of the whole four which has undergone the least change since it was built is No. 413. It stands just eastward of New Exchange Court, and would have been well within the description of "over against the New Exchange." All four, however, are well worth studying. Is it possible that one of these houses sheltered Menasseh ben Israel during the two years that he battled in this city for the re admission of his co-religionists to England ? I have not yet despaired of settling this question, for there are many sources of information which I have not had time to consult, such as the leases of the houses themselves, which might throw light on the identity of their tenants, and the Exchequer accounts, in which the payment for Menasseh's lodging might be entered. But one suggestive fact, possibly bearing on the question, I have ascertained from the Bate Books of the parish.</page><page sequence="6">MANASSEH BEN ISRAEL'S STUDY IN LONDON. 149 In the list of householders, running westward, as I calculate, from a point opposite Ivy Bridge Lane, is a name which strikes me as that of a Portuguese, "Mr. Antho. Doliveere."1 He figures as No. 5 in the list, and this would bring his house very near to New Exchange Court, which was exactly opposite the easternmost corner of the New Ex? change. As we have already seen, it is just here that two of the four buildings (Nos. 413 and 414) which have survived from Menasseh's time are located, and hence it is not at all improbable that it was in one of these houses that he actually lived, that he wrote his famous Vindicice Judeorum, and that his son died. In choosing the house for him the fact that the tenant was a Portuguese would be decisive, for Menasseh was, as you know, a Portuguese by birth, writing and speaking the language, and but little conversant with English. Whether, besides being a Portuguese, " Mr. Doliveere" was also a Jew, cannot be stated with certainty. I have not come across his name among the London Marranos. The name should no doubt be written De Oliveyra, and there was a very prominent Jewish family of that name in Amsterdam, which was contemporary with Menasseh, and the members of which, especially Selomo de Oliveyra, afterwards Chacham of the Amsterdam community, must have been known to him. Moreover, in 1658, there were at least two De Oliveyras, Joseph and Michael, among the Jews resident in Duke's Place.2 In the London Directory for 1677 we find their names entered as " Delli viers," which is a corruption very similar to the spelling of the Yestry Clerk of St. Martin's in the case of Mr. Antho. Doliveere. I went over one of these houses the other day. The interiors are of course completely modernised, but as I stood at the old window of the first floor I could not help being impressed by the possibility that I was in the actual room of which Menasseh wrote as his " study." There probably the Marranos met to discuss their plans of action ; there, perhaps, occurred the discussions of the Massorah with Christian theologians, of which we have heard; there Ranters of all sorts crowded into the room to talk apocalyptic extravagance with the mystical Rabbi, to discuss the Danielic prophecies and the distribu 1 St. Martins in the Fields: Rose Boohs (MS.), 1655, 1656, and 1657. 2 Brit. Mus. Add. MSS., 29,868, fol. 15.</page><page sequence="7">150 MANASSEH BEN ISRAEL'S STUDY IN LONDON. tion of the Ten Tribes. Fuller and Holmes, John Sadler and Sir Edward Spenser, Hugh Peters and Mr. Nye came thither to shake their " dear friend Menasseh " by the hand, to promise their assistance in his campaign and their voices at the Whitehall Conferences. And looking through the window I imagined for a moment that William Prynne himself, walking from Whitehall to his home in Lincoln's Inn Fields on that sixth of December when he made up his mind to write his famous " Demurrer,"1 turned his branded face upwards to where I was musing, and frowned at the study of the Jewish Rabbi. And as he passed on there ran across the road from the court below a neatly dressed dairymaid with the sauciest face in the world, and she also looked up curious to catch a glimpse of the strange visitor to London of whom all the world was talking. Perhaps it was because the name rhymed with Prynne that I remembered the tradition which located in New Exchange Court the dairy of Nell Gwynne. If I sighed as I turned away it was, believe me, less at the thought that the pretty dairymaid was a figment of my imagination than that all these conjectures rested on so slight a foundation. 1 See Preface to A Short Demurrer (1656), p. 4.</page></plain_text>