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Miscellanies: A Letter from a Jewish Bookseller

A. Schischa

<plain_text><page sequence="1">A Letter of a Jewish Bookseller, London, 1737 A. SCHISCHA By 1737 Anglo-Jewry was a well-established and lively community.1 It had a number of synagogues, Batei Midrashim, schools for infants, in all of which a variety of Hebrew books were used. As a whole it was a religiously conforming community, and there could have been no home without at least the rudimentary Jewish library, the Humashim, the Siddurim, Mahzorim, etc.2 Furthermore, the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries had an abundance of non-Jewish Hebrew scholars, some of whom even attained some degree of competence in the language of the Bible. Some collected Hebrew books, and even succeeded in amassing fine collections of printed books as well as MSS.3 Where did all these books come from? Who were the suppliers of them ? A letter that came into my hands recently may give a partial answer to these questions. In a copy of Menasseh ben Israel's edition* of 1 The Jews' Naturalisation Bill (1753) and the controversy it caused was only 16 years off. 2 No more than nine books are known to have been printed in London before this date. None of these was for home or synagogue use, except for the 1709 Haggadah, that is to say, if such an edition ever existed. The first London printers to cater for the needs of the Jewish population founded their printing and publishing business only in 1770? i.e., 23 years later. Cf. Dr. C. Roth, 'The Hebrew Press in London', reprint from Kiryath Sepher, Vol. XIV, Jerusalem, 1937. See also Ruth P. Lehmann, 'Anglo-Jewish Hagadot?a bibliography' in Remem? ber the Days (ed. Shaftesley, J. H. S. E., London 1966), p. 333ff. Don Isaac Abarbanel's commentary to Daniel which I was fortunate enough to acquire, I found a letter written by a Jewish bookseller. This man, Solomon Jacobs, writes to inform his customer, an English Gentile, that he can now fulfil the order placed with him, as he has 'brought them habrew books from Holland'. The writer was probably a Dutch Jew. He might have had a permanent lodging in London, at Mrs John Hincksman's house, or he might just be staying there on a visit, intending to travel back to Holland. He must have been in the book business, as he brought books 'to order'. He must have had quite a reputation, as a non-Jew could hardly have placed an order with him unless he was well known as a trader. And that is all that one can gather about Solomon Jacobs. It is a pity he does not divulge what 'them habrew books' were. In my quest to establish the identity of the recipient of this letter, William Giraud, of Faversham, in Kent, I was fortunate in re? ceiving a very informative reply from the County Archivist, Mr. Felix Hull, B.A., Ph.D. With his kind permission I quote the relevant part of his letter :5 'The GIRAUD family of Faversham is well known locally as several of its members achieved a degree of eminence in various fields. Among these are the Rev. F. F. Giraud, master of Faversham Grammar printing presses, although neither the printer nor the place of printing is stated. Cf. J. S. Da Silva Rosa, HEtt? ''DVk (Alphey Menasseh), Catalogues, etc., Amsterdam, 1927, p. 19, No. 50; Menasseh ben Israel 1604-1957, Catalogue etc., Amsterdam, 1957, p. 15, No. 55; Abraham Yaary, mp? ttV?p ^XIW p Vttf IVM a book-list issued by M.b.I., published with annota? tions by Abraham Yaary in Kiryath Sepher, 1945. Offprint, p. 10, fn. 27; idem, ViTlBT? p fflW? re? vised edition of the same published in a bibliophile edition of 300 copies only, Tel-Aviv, 1947, p. [22]. 3 Cf. E. N. Adler's fascinating Presidential Ad? dress 'The Hebrew Treasures in England', Trans. J.H.S.E., Vol. VIII, pp. 1-18 (he does not deal with the origins of the libraries he mentions). Cf. ibid., pp. 63-77, I. Abrahams's 'The Purchase of Hebrew Books by the English Parliament in 1647' (90 years before our date). These books came from Italy. About the same time John Seiden bought a selection of books from a catalogue issued by Menasseh ben Israel in Amsterdam. Cf. Dr. G. Roth, Aresheth (Hebrew), Vol. 2 (Jerusalem, 1960), pp. 413-414, n VEnnnofcrma onso navi 4 nSWn ^tf? "ISO, Amsterdam, 5407 = 1647. It is one of the books which come from M.b.I.'s 5 Letter dated Maidstone 29 Dec. 64. 158</page><page sequence="2">PLATE XXXI &lt;UtJ foVy crr- CmMy? tont/ rf-c^bUf,^) ^ m?r^ Zfatef Solomon Jacobs's letter to his customer, William Giraud [See pp. 159-160</page><page sequence="3">PLATE XXXII</page><page sequence="4">A Letter of a Jewish Bookseller, London, 1737 159 School from 1762, Herbert John Giraud (1817-1888), chemist, physician, and bota? nist, who has a place in the D.N.B., and F. F. Giraud, historian of Faversham and Town Clerk from 1870. It seems likely that the William Giraud in whom you are in? terested is the same person as William Henry Giraud alias Geraud (1694-1769), Vicar of Graveney, near Faversham, from 1727 until his death. According to an article in Archeologia Cantia, Vol. 21 (p. 151), he was born in La Tour, in the Valley of Lucerne, in 1694, of a Waldensian family and was brought to England under the patronage of his god? father, Lord Galway. I have not, however, been able to find any record of his having distinguished himself in a literary way'. So much for William Giraud. The text of the letter, with all its peculiarities of spelling and grammar, is as follows: London September 14 1737 Sir I have brought them habrew books from Holland According to your order So I desire you will send any body or order any body to fetch them or where I shall bring them and receive the money for them from Your Humble Servent Solomon Jacobs lodging at Mrs. John Hincksman in Saint Mary Ax I desire your Answer The Hebrew seal attached to the letter was broken when the letter was opened, but it can still be deciphered almost entirely. It seems to have belonged to another person and not to the letter, as neither 'Solomon' nor 'Jacobs' appears on it. There is also a postal marking on the cover, a figure 15 with the letters SE under? neath, divided by a horizontal line, and the whole enclosed in a small circle, indicating that the letter was posted in South-East London. On the reverse side of the letter are a number of notes mainly in Latin interspersed with a few Hebrew words and letters. These notes refer to Selichoth (thus), to Ma'arib (in Hebrew), references to an unnamed book indicating the pages in Arabic figures and Hebrew letters. The writing is very neat and orderly. The Hebrew characters are well shaped and betray a hand well trained in their use. However, they are typically those of a non-Jewish scribe. It may be assumed that these notes are in the hand of the recipient of the letter, but it must be said that there is no internal evidence to this effect. If this assumption could be proved right from some external evidence, e.g., by a comparison with an authenticated sample of his handwriting, we should be justified in adding to the names of the known non-Jewish He? braists and bibliophiles of the period^ another name?that of William Giraud. 6 This interesting subject is dealt with fully in a forthcoming study by Mr. Walter M. Schwab.</page></plain_text>