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Miscellanies: Punch and the Jews, 1841-1858

Beatrice Rosenblum

<plain_text><page sequence="1">Punch and the Jews, 1841-1858 BEATRICE ROSENBLUM, B.S.(Columbia) The Jews in England did not obtain political emancipation until 1858, when the Parliament? ary Oaths Bill was passed. The victory climaxed many years of bitterness, during which pro? minent members of the upper middle-class fought against the admission of the Jews to Parliament. Did Punch, a magazine generally viewed as spokesman for that class, express the same hostility? Examination of Punch from its first issue in 1841 to 1858, the year of the Bill's passage, produces strong evidence of anti-Jewish senti? ment. Indeed, the pages are fairly splattered with acid allusions to the Jews. An overly sensitive reader, however, too hastily scanning the pages, might accuse Punch unjustly. Punch was not antisemitic, no matter how sharply it criticised the Jew. It merely expressed its scorn for social evils of all kinds, wherever they flourished. Its intentions were to attack the abuses?not the men who were responsible for them. Punch was really a * teacher as well as a jester'.1 It stated its creed in its very first issue: 'to destroy the very principle of evil',2 and no one was going to be spared. It is true that the reader of Punch will often be appalled at the grossness of the language and the savagery of the attacks. He must, however, continue to have faith in Punch's good intentions. After careful and objective consideration Punch will emerge vindicated. Punch was definitely no bigot. It was not anti? semitic. It was, rather, an ardent champion of all deserving humanity, and the Jews were not excepted. There will be times when the reader will surely question Punch's humane feelings toward the Jews. Mockery of their accents, dress, occupations, and personalities was rampant in its pages. They were criticised because they were rich and influential, or because they were poor and disreputable. Jews who engaged in business were reprimanded because of some of their questionable business practices.3 Cartoons and articles offer to the reader a very detailed picture of the scene on Holywell Street, where resided 'at least a hundred noble creatures, engaged daily (with the exception of Passover) taking in their fellow men, whether they want it or not'.4 One report announces the availability of a first edition of Shakespeare 'for only ?2/6/0, whilst the magnanimous picture dealers commonly add Raphaels and Corregios at eighteen pence a piece'. Punch comments piously about these sales of stolen property: 'Are not these dealers descendants of the Patriarchs? Reader?'tis impossible to look at that white-bearded Jew and not think of Moses and the Profits'.5 The Jews were depicted not only as shrewd traders and dealers in stolen goods, but as exploiters of helpless workers as well.6 In its campaign against the shop owners whose workmen laboured in sweat? shops, Punch drew the stereotype of the 'rich and bloated Jew of aldermanic proportions, monstrous ostentation and vulgarity V During an earlier period, when the passage of the Bill that would grant rights to Jews seemed to be imminent, a letter appeared in Punch. It purported to be written by an elderly Jew to a young one who was eager to obtain the expected privileges. The old man warned against agitation for the passage. 'Disabilities,' the old man mused, 'have their advantages. If the Jew is no longer treated any worse than the Christian, he might be expected to be just as good, if not better.' With political equality would come new obligations. 'Soon they would be expected to work not with their wits, but with their hands!' The old man drew a horrible picture of the inevitable miseries if the Bill were to pass. 'Fancy the future with young Israel obliged to work like common 1 M. H. Spielmann, The History of 'Punch' (New York, 1895), p. 1. * Ibid., p. 2. 3 Punch, II (1842), p. 179. * ibid. s Ibid., p. 180. 6 Spielmann, op. cit., p. 103. I Ibid., p. 104. 205</page><page sequence="2">206 Beatrice Rosenblum Christians . . . building railways, carrying a hod upon his shoulder, going aboard ship.' The writer predicted that within ten years after a Jew had been permitted to sit in Parliament, he would most certainly wish he could be excused, and ask for all his disabilities' back!8 Equality of privilege was desirable; equality of obligation, however, was repugnant. No, Punch stated firmly, the Jews did not want full equality, not at all. Cartoons of Jews depicted them as foreign types, with black, curly hair, enormous noses, thick, bulbous lips; occasionally they wore several hats, to remind the viewers of the 'favoured trade' of dealing in old clothes, and for many years Punch continued to lash out mercilessly against the anti-social traits of the Jews. 'They are excluded from Parlia? ment, not merely by the bigotry of the Peers, but by the very facts themselves. The facts confirm the assertions of horse-dealing, dis? sipation, bill-discounting and rascality. It is the facts . . . that tend to obstruct the entrance of the Israelites into the House of Commons.'9 Surely similarly disparaging remarks appear? ing today in a publication of Punch's stature would bring explosive protest and fierce condemnation of the journal's bigotry. Accord? ing to current standards of good taste, such treatment of the Jews would be accepted with? out question as proof of a magazine's illiberal opinions, and it would be strongly condemned. Punch did not merely criticise, however. It also offered helpful advice. 'Since the Jewish community is neither numerous nor poor, but just the opposite, and its chiefs are wallowing in riches,' the most effective means of improving their status would be to further mass education. The diffusion of higher educa? tion throughout their body would solve their problems. 'The problem of anti-Semitism did not lie,' stated Punch, 'with the bigots. The Jews must educate themselves. That will bring an end to the prejudice.'10 Benjamin Disraeli, however, was highly educated and cultivated. It is true that his foppishness, his arrogance, and his opportunism irritated many. Nevertheless, he was welcomed at the best houses in London.11 Years before the first issue of Punch, he already attained success as an author and had been elected to Parliament. In 1848 he became leader of the Conservative Party. Although he had been born a Jew, it was well known that he had been converted to the Anglican faith when he was 12 years old. He was, therefore, eligible to take the oath as a Christian and to be admitted to Parliament. Nevertheless, Disraeli felt the contempt with which Punch treated the Jews, for the magazine never seemed to forget his origin. The very first issue nicknamed him 'The Hebrew Adonis',12 and continued its taunts about his Jewishness for many years. Punch noticed his popularity and predicted that he would doubtless go far in government. He would, it foretold, probably soon be offered a Secretaryship and Punch would be glad to suggest others who might enjoy serving with him and who might be appropriate. For the new Cabinet Punch nominated 'Gold-dust' Solomons and 'Money' Moses.13 Punch reported Disraeli's speech on the state of the nation in which he announced that 'perplexity seemed to be the great feature of the day'. Punch invited its readers 'If any one questions us as to what Disraeli's "great feature" is, we should certainly say, in examining his votes, of course the Noes, decidedly the Noes. It is prominent in everything to which he has given counten? ance.'14 His speeches evoked scathing ridicule: 'They are confoundedly full of Mosaic ornaments,' obviously composed 'not of gold but of brass'.15 Punch frequently called the Jews 'Caucasians', perhaps because of their Near Eastern origins. One of its gossip columnists reported Disraeli's speech praising the Emperor of Russia, . . . 'smearing the bear with Caucasian honey, while he stood there in the Commons wearing a coat lined with black foxes, the retaining fee of the Emperor'.1&lt;&gt; The pages are studded * Punch, XIV (1848), p. 68. 9 Punch, XXV (1853), p. 22. 10 Ibid. 11 Francis Hitchman, The Public Life of the Earl of Beacons?eld, K.G. (London, 1879), I, p. 35. 12 Punch, I (1841), p. 255. ^ Ibid., p. 30. i4 Punch, XVII (1849), p. 21. is Punch, I (1841), p. 111. i6 Punch, XVI (1849), p. 131.</page><page sequence="3">Punch and the Jews, 1841-1858 207 with references to the Jewish traits of Disraeli. He was, alas, 'unfavoured by station' because of his Jewish origin. He was 'dark, supple, subtle, with mind lithe as the limbs of Ishmael's sons, his swart progenitors'.17 We see, then, that even so cultivated a man as Disraeli, who was not even considered to be Jewish by the Jews, was the object of Punch's taunts. Lest any reader forget Disraeli's Jewish background for even a moment, Punch illustrated his speeches with sketches of their usual stereotype of the Jew, replete with gold earrings and the three hats that typified an old-clothes dealer,18 large features and dark curly locks. At first glance, obviously, Punch seems to treat the Jews most unsympathetically. In its defence, however, it must be remembered that it really treated almost everyone unsympathetic ally. Punch lashed out viciously at the Catholics19 and the Scots.20 As for the Irish, there is scarcely an issue that is not filled with ridicule of them, even during the terrible years of the famine, when there was such misery. The magazine had not great respect even for Christian integrity on occasion,21 the sincerity of a Quaker is also questioned,22 and Royalty is severely criticised.23 Liberals, Conservatives, Eton boys, suffra? gettes, the heads of foreign Governments? all felt the lash of Punch's whip, the sting of its satire. It is no surprise to learn that the maga? zine was at one time banned from France and that even the British Government trembled at what it might say. Its tone was vituperative, its exposures were merciless. Nevertheless, it is valid to insist that, in its treatment of the Jews, at least, Punch was not totally unsym? pathetic, nor was it lacking in sympathy. The true test of Punch's feelings toward the Jewish people was its attitude toward the Jewish Disabilities Bills, which would give the Jews the right to sit in Parliament. The comparison of its attitude towards the Bills with that of the Bills' opponents is revealing. It offers convincing proof of Punch's comparatively sympathetic views. Punch was, in fact, sharply critical of the sentiments of the objectors. It was indeed far more bitterly derisive in its criticism of the Jews' detractors than it was of the Jews themselves. It adopted the role of ardent champion of the Jewish cause. It disparaged the bigoted attitudes of the opponents of the Bills, in spite of the fact that those sentiments were very widely held, and in influential circles. For, despite the greater tolerance and wider acceptance of Jewish people, they were still considered by many to be an 'alien race', and there was much antisemitism. Viewed in proper historical perspective, the objections to the Bill do not really, therefore, appear to be so incomprehen? sible. Many of the clerics feared that the change in the law would 'de-christianize the entire Legislature and imperil the country's religion'. That was a very real fear to many of the orthodox and literal members to whom the oath was sacred, unalterable, and even a necessary guarantor of the endurance of the monarchy. Yet Punch did not support that view; it chose the liberal side. It would, therefore, continue to hammer, chide, ridicule, censure, rebuke, and shout uproariously?until that law was changed. Punch sympathised with the Jews who were eagerly awaiting the outcome of the legislators' decision. On one occasion discussion on the Bill was postponed in order to permit the members of the House of Com? mons to attend a social function at Buckingham Palace. Punch did not agree that a mere party, even so important a party, was an event that justified delay in considering the Bill. Punch criticised the frivolity and heartlessness of the members: 'Religious liberty put off,' it chided?'for a quadrille!'24 'Will the Lords throw the Jews out?' Punch worried. It was very possible that they would. 'It was a bit of bigotry that could be enjoyed in comfort.' Punch was perceptive; it knew there would never be much fuss about the matter, no massive protest, and it knew that the Lords "Punch, XXIV (1853), p. 10. is Punch. I (1841), p. 111. i9 Punch, XXV (1853), p. 2. ? Ibid., p. 255. 21 i&gt;M?c^, XXXIV (1858), p. 165. 22 iW*, XXV (1853), p. 166. ? Punch, X (1846), p. 238. "Punch, XVI (1849), pp. 193ff.</page><page sequence="4">208 Beatrice Rosenblum were aware of it too. They could enjoy their prejudices with impunity. 'There'll be no buttoning up of pockets, no marching of iron men from Birmingham,'25 as there had been when other groups were refused privileges. Punch characterised the members of the Opposition as sadists. 'Have you ever seen a boy with a cockchafer on a pin, spinning him around ?' To Punch the attitude of the narrow minded Lords was very reminiscent of such cruel amusements. 'The House of Lords is that boy, and the Jew is the cockchafer, and the boy's father, a good, dull sort of man that wouldn't hurt a Christian, is John Bull.' Punch predicted that John Bull was not going to punish that boy, 'even tho' he tease and persecute the Jew, which makes the matter all the shabbier', Punch said in reproach, 'because it is so cowardly.'26 'Her Majesty's Rats' was the title of an article in which Punch gravely proposed that the Government should absolutely insist upon everyone's taking the Oath of Allegiance in its original form, everyone, even the rat? catchers. One must take no chances of en? dangering the security of the nation I 'A Parcel of Old.Frightened at a Nasty! Great! Ugly!?Jew Bill', is the caption for a large cartoon that shows the Lords in a state of wild panic, jumping up and gathering their robes about them as they scamper about, while a hideous little insect, labeled 'The Jew Bill', crawls menacingly into their chamber.27 Punch observed with some understatement that the Lords 'seemed to be rejecting the Jewish Disabilities Bill as dangerous to the Christian character of Parliament'. Punch was not very respectful of their determination to preserve this character, and indeed it doubted that 'their beautiful house could be spoiled by the introduction of mosaic'.28 There were echoes in London of the pre? judices expressed by the Lords. Punch answered them with its usual insouciance. A loud protest arose when a plan by the Post Office was announced to keep the office open on Sunday mornings. Aroused, indignant citizens wrote to editors of newspapers protesting that it was all 'part of a Jewish plot'. The Jews observed Saturday as their Sabbath. It would, therefore, be a 'matter of convenience to them if the Post Office were permitted to work on Sunday', the infuriated Londoners wrote. 'Has it occurred to you that this new arrangement may be an attempt to pave the way to let Baron de Rothschild and other rich Jews have their letters delivered on our Sabbath?' Punch queried, gravely. Determined to make the protestors squirm, Punch nodded in sad agreement: 'This new step is but the beginning of the end. We are all, in good time, to be Judaized . . . We hear that Rowland Hill from boyhood had Judaical tendencies. In fact he had frequently been found playing marbles in the vicinity of the neighbourhood synagogue!' No wonder, then, that the Post Office was catering now to the Jews! With pretended gloom Punch predicted the inevitable disaster: the Jews would soon control everything. To further ridicule the antisemitic sentiments, Punch reported, tongue-in-cheek: 'Disraeli has predicted that (in less than two years) the chief Rabbi will be preaching in St. Paul's Church ... It was obvious that the Jews were aiming at the subversion of Christianity. These twenty-five clerks in the Sunday Post Office were the nucleus of the army that will ultimately bring victory to Judaism. It is calculated that in a twelve month at most, these five and twenty clerks, working three hours on a Sunday, will pull down the altar and upset the throne, drive into exile the Archbishop of Canterbury . . . and put the High Priest of the Jews in the Palace of Lambeth.'29 Punch's irony knew no bounds, and it was obviously the most effective way to ridicule the postures of the prejudiced. Punch had often been spiteful to the Jews. Now, however, it was really savage to their enemies. While it may be excess? ive to praise it for its philosemitism, it must be admitted that its gestures were friendly. It pleaded for tolerance. In a letter to Sir Harry Inglis, one of the foremost members of the Opposition, Punch paraphrased Shy lock's plea. 25 Ibid. 27 Punch, XVII XXXI). (1849), facing p. 26 Ibid. 16. (See Plate 28 Ibid., p. 29. 29 ibid., p. 169.</page><page sequence="5">PLATE XXXI A PARCEL OF OLD-FRIGHTENED AT A NASTY! GREAT! UGLY! JEW BILL. The House of Lords in panic?from Punch XVII, 1849, facing p. 16 (see p. 208) (Reproduced by permission of Punch)</page><page sequence="6">PLATE XXXII -HAVE YOU GOT SUCH A THING AS A TURN KD COAT FOR SALK:&gt;" A hang-dog Disraeli?from Punch XVI (1849, p. 211) (see p. 209) (Reproduced by permission of Punch)</page><page sequence="7">Punch and the Jews, 1841-1858 209 'Hath not a Jew faculties . . . judgment, reason ? They are subject to the laws, shall they not then have the right to make them?'30 How furiously Punch turned on Disraeli if he faltered even a moment in his support of the Bill! In spite of the early conversion, Punch considered him Jewish and demanded his loyalty to his people. When no record was found of his assent to the third reading of the Bill, or, at least, no support from Disraeli was heard, Punch was scornful. 'Where was Benjamin,' it demanded to know, 'where was he on the Jew's Bill ? All the strong voices were belabouring and abusing the Jew. And where was the hero of the race? He was absent. Was he fearful of losing the support of the Protectionists?' Had he merely remained indifferently at home? If he re? frained (because of cowardice) to vote for the Bill, most surely, as the important debate went on, 'The Hebrew Hero,' recalling his obligations, 'must have gotten smaller and smaller and smaller, until finally he was little bigger than the smallest grease spot on the seat of his library chair,'31 Punch insisted. Punch was serious in its criticism of Disraeli's desertion of principles. It pursued him with tenacity; his defection was not to be dismissed. A full-page cartoon showed a shamefaced Disraeli, his toes pointing inward, shoulders hunched up, as the very embodiment of mortification. He is being pursued by an old clothes man who is demanding to know whether Disraeli perhaps has 'such a thing as a turned coat for sale'.32 Punch wielded a mighty pen indeed, and these humiliating words and pic? tures must have been painful rebukes to a man of Disraeli's stature. Punch championed the Bill to alter the oath because it believed that Jews should be per? mitted to sit in Parliament. It was convinced that justice demanded their admission. Dis? raeli, however, had not entered the fight for emancipation 'in deference to abstract prin? ciples and arbitrary doctrines.'33 Instead, he stated other reasons for his support. Jews should be included, in his opinion, because they were 'of the religion of which my Lord and Saviour was born*. He fought as a devout Christian, one proud of the Semitic heritage, but not as a progressive legislator. But Punch scorned this distinction as the result of coward? ice, . . . 'swapping his pride in the race of his sires, for the notice of Dukes all bestarred and begartered, and the empty applause of Pro? tectionist squires'.34 Who were those ardent protectors of the nation's purity, those dreadful Protectionists? Leading the troops and fairly typical of the others was Sir Robert Harry Inglis.35 Samuel Warren was another strongly articulate oppon? ent of the Bill.3* Charles Newdegate, 'a conservative of the old school, was widely known for his pronounced enmity to the Roman Church'.37 The objectors reiterated the fact that the Jews were still considered by many to be an alien people, despite their adoption of many English ways. Punch was savage in its treatment of these bigots. With precision it sliced through the mass of hypocritical protestations of devotion and probed the core of antisemitism. It declared their arguments to be 'pure humbug' and refused to end its merciless exposure until victory was assured. In the final analysis, then, Punch emerged as a champion of the Jews. It proved, after all, to be a liberal-minded patriot.38 The unflattering stereotypes of the Jews that appeared in its pages were deplorable, but they were not definitive. Punch exposed and ridiculed every? one on its campaign for social betterment, and no one was spared, certainly not the Jews. But Punch was 'able to detect the ridicule of the Jews without loving them less'.39 Therefore it rejoiced in 1858 when the Bill was finally passed, and thus proved its basic attitude? one of affectionate regard. Punch celebrated in typical fashion. 'A great 30 Punch, XIII (1847), p. 247. 31 Ibid., XVI (1849), p. 203. 32 Punch, XVI (1849), p. 211. (See Plate XXXII). 33 Herman Ausubel, The Late Victorians (New York, 1955), p. 48. 34 Punch, XVI (1849), p. 198. 35 Dictionary of National Biography, ed. George Smith (London, 1908). 36 Ibid. 37 Ibid. 38 Spielmann, op. cit., p. 3. 39 George Meredith, 'An Essay on Comedy', ed. Wylie Sypher (New York, 1956), p. 42.</page><page sequence="8">210 Beatrice Rosenblum day for Israel', it was announced impishly in the July issue. 'The nation is now, we under? stand, completely un-christianized.'40 The new law, although it was considered to be a great victory, was actually a compromise measure. Even now the Lords had refused to change its own rules regarding the oath. A Jew could, therefore, be admitted only to the House of Commons. He would be 'admitted to the parlour but excluded from the drawing room',41 Punch observed. Even such limited entry into the councils of government, however, spelled peril for the nation. The bigots had been correct. The Jew had been allowed to enter Parliament and now the land was doomed. Punch revealed that a 'closely-boarded enclosure had just been erected in front of Westminster Abbey. A statue of Diana of the Ephesians was to be erected there in order to lure the congregation from the regular church service.'42 Paganism would be rampant, warned Punch, with mock horror. There was still some ray of hope. Perhaps there could be a general massacre of the Jews ... 'by Wednesday or Thursday at the latest?' Punch was not so very hopeful, for there was, alas, really 'very little true piety these days',43 it mused regretfully. LIST OF WORKS CONSULTED Ausubel, Herman, The Late Victorians (New York, 1955). Brandes, Georg, Lord Beaconsfield, trans. Mrs. George Sturge (London, 1880). Brown, W. J., Everybody's Guide To Parliament (London, 1946). Dictionary of National Biography, ed. George Smith (London, 1908). Eisenmenger, Johann A., Entdecktes Judenthum (Judaism Revealed), 1711. Hitchman, Francis, The Public Life of the Earl of Beacons field, K.G. (London, 1879). Meredith, George, 'An Essay On Comedy', Comedy. Garden City (New York, 1956). Parliament Debates, 3rd Series, London, 1849, 1858. GII, CIV, CV, CVI. Punch, London, 1841-1858. I-XXXIV. Punch. Benjamin Disraeli: In Upwards of 100 Cartoons from the Collection of 'Mr. Punch'' (London, 1878). Roth, Cecil, 'Disraeli, Judaism, and The Jews', Benjamin Disraeli (New York, 1952); and History of the Jews in England, 3rd ed. (Oxford, 1964). Samuel, Moses, 'An Address on the Position of the Jews in Britain', Kos Yeshuoth (Liverpool, 1845). Spielman, M. H., The History of Punch (New York, 1895). The Times, London, 12 June 1849, April-June 1858. Williams, Ron E., A Century of Punch (New York, 1955). 40 Punch, XXV (1858), 13ff. 41 Ibid. 42 Ibid. 43 ibid.</page></plain_text>