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Notes on Some Contemporary References to Dr. Falk, the Baal Shem of London, in the Rainsford MSS. at the British Museum

Gordon P. G. Hills

<plain_text><page sequence="1">NOTES ON SOME CONTEMPORARY REFER? ENCES TO DR. FALK, THE BAAL SHEM OF LONDON, IN THE RAINSFORD MSS. AT THE BRITISH MUSEUM. By GORDON P. G. HILLS, Esq. (Paper read before the Jewish Historical Society of England on June 28, 1915.) In the course of a recent examination of the Rainsford MSS. at the British Museum I came across several references to Dr. Falk of London. By the kindness of the Rev. M. Rosenbaum I was directed to the valu? able collection of information relating to that extraordinary personage contained in the late Rev. Dr. H. Adler's paper on " The Baal Shem of London," read before the Jewish Historical Society of England in 1903, and I now have the pleasure to offer these notes of my gleanings for the further information of the Society, and with grateful thanks for the help the Transactions have afforded me.1 The Rainsford MSS. in the British Museum Library comprise Nos. 23644 to 23680 in the catalogue of Additional MSS., consisting of an autobiography, correspondence, official and miscellaneous papers, including papers on Freemasonry, Magnetism, and alchemical processes, formerly the property of General Charles Bainsford. A brief account of the career of the owner of these MSS. will explain how we come upon the references to Dr. Falk. Born in 1728, Charles Rainsford entered the army, and early distinguished himself in 1 In my " Notes on the Rainsford Papers in the British Museum," published in Ars Quatuor Coronatorum, vol. xxvi., 1913. 122</page><page sequence="2">NOTES ON SOME CONTEMPORARY REFERENCES TO DR. FALK. 123 his profession, carrying the standard at the battle of Fontenoy (1745). He was permitted to serve under Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick, and also in the Portuguese service, and was in command of the troops in Hyde Park at the time of the Gordon Riots. His appointment as Equerry to the Duke of Gloucester led to travel abroad, and in that way, as well as through his foreign military service, he enjoyed special opportunities for acquiring knowledge of continental life. The General at different times represented Maldon, Bere Alston, and Launceston in Parliament, and his last active military appointment was in command at Gibraltar, from which he retired in 1795, surviving until 1809. General Rainsford was a cousin of Sir Joseph Banks, President of the Royal Society, and became a Fellow of that Society and of the Society of Antiquaries. His intellectual activities, outside his profession, were many and varied, especially in the domains of geology and chemistry; he experimented in alchemy and " animal magnetism," was a student of Cabala, claimed to be a Rosicrucian, was a Freemason particularly versed in the systems in vogue on the Continent, and an active member of various benevolent institutions. As a friend summed up his character, " General Rainsford . . . tho' a peculiar man in some of his speculations, is an ingenious and a worthy man." He himself acknowledged that he was ''perhaps too visionary," but, said he, " Employed, as I am by Profession, in Politics, and in War, as a Man of the World, I profess none the less Religion, Morality, and Philosophy, and I pursue them by all Paths to reach a good Haven, and to perform my Duty as an Honest Man." These are the credentials of this recently found contemporary witness as to Dr. Falk's character; he was precisely the type of man one would expect to have been interested in the reports which were circulated about the Rabbi, who, it will be remembered, came to London in 1742, and died at his residence in Wellclose Square on April 17, 1782. Rainsford as an Ensign in the Coldstream Guards came to London in 1745, where he records that he " remained in London doing Duty till the year 1751, and passed his Time very comfortably." Whether rumour of Falk's achievements reached him in those days we cannot say, but it was a time of comparative leisure which may have afforded the opportunity. In 1777 Rainsford was employed as Major-General, enrolling foreign troops on the Continent for service on behalf of the British Crown in America, and in the copy he has preserved of his letter of November 11</page><page sequence="3">124 NOTES ON SOME CONTEMPORARY REFERENCES TO DR. FALK of that year we find him writing from The Hague that in order to obtain money for his expenses " it was necessary to visit my friend Boas the Jew Banker. ... In con? versing with one of the Sons, we fell upon the Topick of Dr. du Falk, the famous Oabalist, whom I had heard a great deal of both at Harwich from the Capt? of the Packets?at Helvoet Sluys, and at Maasland Sluys and found him in high Bepute at all three Places, for the Propriety of his Behaviour and Sanctity of his Manners and, as well, from the respectable Character he appeared in of a venerable Babbi of great Benevolence and Generosity, but knowing long before that the Boas' family had a particular Knowledge and Correspondence with him, I questioned the Son about him, especially upon that Part of his Life, mentioned by Count Rentzow, published at the Hague in 1741. The Jew made no Hesitation to answer my Questions, and enter minutely into his Character. I found Bentzow had confounded two things together, what had passed before the D. de Richelieu, and what before C? Donop, Westerlock and Count Rentzow himself. The first was not done by Du Falk?but the last which are very singular and surprising, he owned were done by himself, but that at present he would not or dare not attempt them ; that he was a most profound Cabalist and a very holy Man ; that he had formerly been much distressed for Money, and that a Mr. Lehman had furnished him at different times, and by various Means, tho' sometimes not so creditably; that Lehman was a Man of good family in Germany, and originally of dissolute Manners but since his Friendship with Dr. du Falk he was a man of good Morals, and Religion; that Lehman was now in France with some French Nobleman, in hopes of getting Money from there, and that du Falk was at present very easy in his Circumstances but had wasted a great deal of Money; that his Brother would tell me a great deal more of this Subject upon another Occasion. I was very glad to hear from such good Authority both of the Doctor and my Friend Lehman whom I have known for some years, and found in all his Behaviour and Conversation to be a very upright Man, and whom I am now in close Correspondence with, and expect to see at my Beturn to England, upon some particular Business between us. He is now at Versailles, in close connexion with the Chev! de L-g and the P. de Tingri, and the Con? versation I had with Boas will be of no small use to me in futuro, but more of this another time, it is late and I must wish you Good Night to save the packet." (Add. MSS. 23650, f. 7.) I find from further references that the firm of bankers at The Hague, mentioned above, carried on their business under the names of Abraham and Simeon Boas. The next mention of Dr. Falk occurs in a copy of a letter written</page><page sequence="4">IN THE RAINSFORD MSS. AT THE BRITISH MUSEUM. 125 in French by General Rainsford from the camp at Harwich, where he had been in command of the assembled troops. The letter is in reply to an unnamed correspondent, probably at Paris; it is dated October 1782, and, after references to a recent visit to Algiers and travel in Italy, pro? ceeds with complimentary remarks and requests for frequent information as to the friend's works and discoveries, when the following passage occurs: " As to the Kabbala all is upset by the unexpected death of Dr. Falk. I have spoken with his great friend Lehman, who is, from what he tells me, his heir to the sum of ?15,000 sterling, but up to now I have found nothing certain relating to that famous Rabbi, whether he is genuine or a knave. What does your friend in Franconia1 say about it, who was so desperately taken with him ? Believe me, I have found news about that Jew, among the Jews of Algiers, and they have told me some extraordinary stories about him, even so far as to attribute their success against the Spaniards to him?viol? ! I don't so far know enough to unravel his real origin, but I hope to come to the end with time, and you shall be fully informed of it. I have found some rather curious MSS. in Algiers in Hebrew relating to the Society of Bosicrucians,2 which exists at present under another name with the same forms. I hope, moreover, to be admitted to their true knowledge." (Add. MSS. 23669, f. 85.) There is no further mention of Dr. Falk in the letter, but a reference follows to Dr. James Price, whose experiments in the transmutation of metals remind us of the mysterious pursuits which the Babbi was supposed to conduct in his secret retreat in Epping Forest. General Rainsford's masonic activities led to his election as one of the English representatives at an international congress of Freemasons, known as " the Paris Convent," which was in session there at various dates from 1784 to 1787. This assembly included distinguished men of all ranks and professions, from the Duke of Brunswick, the Princes of Hesse-Darmstadt and Hesse-Cassel, reigning princes, all classes down? wards ; nobility, court officials, officers of the royal services, clergy, pro? fessional men, and merchants took part, dealing not only with strictly masonic matters, but with a programme of research to embrace whatever 1 F?rth, the town with which Falk had early associations, where his mother was buried, and to the synagogue of which he left bequests, was, it will be recollected, in Franconia. 2 The Rosicrucian Society which General Rainsford joined was at Paris.</page><page sequence="5">126 NOTES ON SOME CONTEMPORARY REFERENCES TO DR. FALK might prove to be for the general good of Humanity, as varied and comprehensive as the interests of General Rainsford himself. The notoriety of Mesmer's Magnetic System, the Elixirs of Life promised by the Comte Saint Germain and Cagliostro, brought them invitations to attend and explain their claims, and among the memoranda of questions which were circulated in advance to aid the deliberations of the congress the names of Price and Falk, and the mystic Swedenborg appear. One such series of preliminary questions despatched from Paris to London in 1783 contained the request for? "An historical account founded on trustworthy evidence about the residence of Dr. Falk in England, the opinion which has been given of him, his manner of life and all the circumstances which might be interesting about that extraordinary man, who they say died four months ago." (Add. MSS. 23675, f. 13.) The reply to this, dated July 18, passing through General Rains ford's hands, was as follows: " Mr. Samuel Falk was a Jew who died a little more than fifteen months ago; they maintained that he had misemployed some knowledge (connaissances) which had been entrusted to him, and that for that reason he was punished, and obliged to pass the rest of his life in solitude, without daring to communicate his knowledge, which he had the imprudence to make apparent for ostentation." The suggestions of Dr. Falk's disgrace and punishment are quite in accord with what, one gathers from their writings, his contemporaries Emden and Azulai would gladly have seen befall him, but otherwise the knowledge which Dr. Adler's researches have afforded us gives no grounds in confirmation of these suppositions. The Rabbi's Will, dated April 14, 1782, only a few days before his death on April 17, records his condition as " finding myself indisposed but of sound mind and memory and fully capable to make my last Will and Testament." The correspondents at Paris wrote again on January 28, 1784, for further information on various matters, and inquire : " From whom had Dr. Falk received knowledge ? What was the nature of his knowledge? Is there any other Disciple in your country besides Leman who might now be in France ? What was the opinion of him during life, his reputation after death? There is an idea that he foretold the death of Louis XV. to two French lords." (Add. MSS. 23675, f. 17, ? 7.)</page><page sequence="6">IN THE RAINSFORD MSS. AT THE BRITISH MUSEUM. 127 No copy of any reply has been preserved, and the Rainsford Papers contain no further reference to Dr. Falk. I do not know that we can say that these extracts throw much fresh light on what is known about the famous Baal Shem of London, but their tenor is quite in accord with the widely differing estimates of his character which Dr. Adler collected, aud corroborates those accounts of his reputation. What more can we say of Dr. Falk than that he was clearly a man the record of whose life will be placed at opposite poles of admiration or reprobation by his friends or enemies, and it would evidently furnish excellent arguments for either side. No doubt common report and his admirers invested the Rabbi with very much of the marvellous, and doubtless the recipient, subject to the not uncommon weakness of vanity, was led, almost perforce, to act up to the part. Of his finer qualities, leaving aside the general testimony of so many of his contemporaries as to his devoutness and benevolence, substantial evidence amounts to this day in his bequests, and may well lead us to pause in charity and reflect that, as Dr. Adler wrote, " He lived at a time when superstition flourished in rank luxuriance. Shall it be accounted to him an unpardonable offence, that he did not rise superior to the spirit of his age ?" On the subject of Dr. Falk's disciple, Lehman, I have been able to add a little information from the Rainsford Papers. In Dr. Adler's account the name only occurs as appearing in the endorsement on the Will, to the effect that it was produced " In the Exchequer " in the case of "Goldsmid and an? against Lehman." General Rainsford's letter of November 11, 1777, gives some particulars of Lehman's career, and when we learn that later on, soon after his patron's death, he was in expectation that he would come into a fortune of .?15,000, it is not unnatural to find that when a Will which did not mention him at all was proved on May 11, 1782, difficulties were raised. I find that pro? ceedings were commenced by Lehman against the Executors (Goldsmid and an?.r) during Hilary Term 1784, and a little later a counter suit of Goldsmid v. Lehman appears, but I have not attempted to unravel the proceedings any further.1 1 See, however, Mr. H. S. Q. Henriques' Note in No. 12 of the Jewish Historical Society's Miscellanies.</page><page sequence="7">128 NOTES ON SOME CONTEMPORARY REFERENCES TO DR. FALK. The interest which General Rainsford and his masonic friends took in Dr. Falk does not at all necessarily imply that the Rabbi was a Freemason. I do not find any evidence that he was, although there was no reason existing at the time, at any rate in England, why he should not have belonged to the Craft. The Rainsford references give no hint of such membership; on the contrary, I think it is clear that it was as a master of practical Cabala that curiosity was aroused about him. It is in the character of a master of Cabala that the accounts which Dr. Adler quoted of curious ceremonies and conjurations suggest some mystic ritual in connection with a " Brotherhood." But from the context it does not appear that, necessarily, anything more restricted is implied than the brotherhood of Falk's co-religionists?the brotherhood of Jews in general. If the reference to betrayal of secrets for unworthy purposes refers to the membership of some secret society, it must have been such an one devoted to Cabalistic, Alchemical, or Bosicrucian pursuits. In this connection it is of interest to note that Kenneth Mackenzie in his Royal Masonic Cyclopaedia (1877) has some rather confused references to Dr. Falk in his character as Cabalist and Thaumaturgist, but he appears to manufacture three individuals out of the one personalty. The dates are wrong, and the writer evidently has a suspicion that two of the characters, Rabbi de Falk and Cain Chenuel Falk or Falcon, may be the same person, as they undoubtedly are; the third reference is to a " John Frederick Falk," son of the preceding, born at Hamburg of Jewish parents, reported to have been the head of a Cabalistic College in London, and to have died about 1824. As Dr. Falk had no children this is an evident mistake, though the description given would fit Falk himself at his earlier date. Another mention of a Doctor Falk occurs in a paper by Dr. Wynn Westcott,1 where he is said to have presided over a Rosicrucian College in London between 1830 and 1850, which again does not agree with the period when our Rabbi was holding his gatherings in Wellclose Square. 1 " Rosicrucians, their History and Aims," Ars Quatuor Coronatorum, vii., 1894.</page></plain_text>