< Back

Paul of Burgos in London

I. Abrahams

<plain_text><page sequence="1">PAUL OF BURGOS IN LONDON. -? By ISRAEL ABRAHAMS, M.A. When Edward I. expelled the Jews from England, a number of the exiles made their way to Northern Spain. Of these some must have found a home in Burgos. One of these new Anglo-Jewish settlers in Spain was, I conjecture, the ancestor of Paul of Burgos, who rose to notoriety exactly a century after his family had been driven from England. The supposition, that Paul of Burgos migrated from Eng? land, is, I admit, purely conjectural. And there was another more certain cause that may have endeared England to the subject of this short paper. When Paul of Burgos was still a boy, for he was born in 1351, the name of the heir to the English throne was associated with that of one of the best friends that the Jews ever knew in Castile. Edward the Black Prince threw in his lot with Don Pedro the Cruel, as Churchmen called him, Don Pedro the Kind, as the Jews found him. Hence England was a word which sounded sweet in a Spanish Jew's ears at the end of the 14th century, and this sentiment added to the allurement held out by a city in which as I have supposed, his fathers had once sojourned, led this youth back to these shores. And this visitor was no ordinary Jew. Paul of Burgos rose to fame, after the terrible Spanish persecutions of 1390, as a Bishop who had once been a Rabbi. In the fortieth year of his age he abandoned the Synagogue for the Church, and thenceforth played a reckless and prominent role as an enemy to Judaism and the Jews. The very man to whom he addressed his letter from London fell a victim to Paul's vindictiveness. Don Meir Alguadez, the Physician and Rabbi of Castile, was tortured to death at the instigation of his former colleague, correspondent and friend, Paul of Burgos. How this man rose to</page><page sequence="2">150 PAUL OF BURGOS IN LONDON. eminence by starting a carriage and a retinue in order to impose on the hidalgos, how he won place and fame in the Church and wrought evil to the Synagogue, are not these things written in the Book of the Chronicles of Israel, at the hand of Professor Graetz ? Now, though it may sound paradoxical, yet if Paul of Burgos had really visited England, this paper would not have been written. The society would have suffered no great loss, I fear you will rejoin. Yet my paper is so short that it will be ended before you have time to be disappointed. Let me explain my paradox. The visit of Paul of Burgos to England in the reign of Richard II. would have added nothing to our knowledge of the dark period between 1290 and 1650. For we knew already, from the records of the Domus Conversorum, that several Jewish converts were domiciled in England up to the reign of James I. The fact, however, is that Paul of Burgos did not visit England ; it was Solomon Levi who came. For, when he came here he was still a very observant and orthodox Jew. He had not yet changed either his religion or his name. Hence it is a new fact of moment for students of Anglo-Jewish history to realise that before the obscure Solomon Levi had blossomed into the famous Bishop Paul of Burgos, he not only came to London, but resided for some length of time in the metropolis rather less than a century after the fatal year, 1290. That Solomon Levi did visit London there can be no reasonable doubt. For there is extant a letter,1 recently published by Dr. Harkavy; and in all MSS. of this letter of Solomon Levi, we are distinctly told that the writer was in London when he composed it. What does need a little argument, however, is my confident statement that the writer of this letter was still a Jew. Still, even this would need no words were it not that Graetz has argued in favour of the opposite view. Graetz, however, is clearly mistaken. Throughout his letter, Solomon Levi applies to himself just the language used in the Bible of Abraham and Joseph when they, as Hebrews, were in foreign and non-Jewish lands. Moreover, it is impossible for anyone to read the letter carefully without perceiving that the writer was 1 See np^n 1895, p. 40 Tvxh wrtyh ^yi nijn tn nW ana ? DDDJ J?D 1D*y 111 ^y V'T PHKlta TKD \)1 Cf. Steinschneider Cat. of MS. in Leyden, p. 277.</page><page sequence="3">PAUL OF BURGOS IN LONDON. 151 not merely a Jew, but a most punctilious observer of Jewish ceremonies. Steinschneider and G-eiger1 and Harkavy are all against Graetz on this matter. Besides, there are one or two considerations of an external character which go to support the internal evidence that the writer of the Purim Letter was the Jew and not the Convert. Paul of Burgos, after his conversion, became a personage of con? siderable note. When he went to France in 1391, he roused something like a sensation in the University of Paris. Is it credible that the visit to England of so notorious a figure should have left absolutely no trace in contemporary English records ? England was in a theological ferment, for Wyclif had stirred the national conscience to its core. The only possible reply to this would be the suggestion that Paul's visit to England fell in the few months which intervened between his conversion and his visit to France in 1391. If he came here as a comparatively unknown convert, would he not have made his way to the Domus Conversorum ? Yet the records of that home of converted Jews are innocent of any mention of him. Finally, though he wrote in Hebrew after his conversion, yet he signed his name differently. In the letter which he, as a Christian, addressed to Orabuena he describes himself as " The former Solomon Levi, the present Paul of Burgos." In the letter that he wrote from London he styles himself simply " Solomon Levi." It seems to me that there never was a clearer case than this. We can gather some details as to his visit. Solomon Levi paid more than a flying visit here ; he remained in London for some con? siderable time. He came at a rather unfortunate moment. It will be remembered that the Jews did not meekly submit to their expulsion by Edward I., but within a quarter of a century after that event they attempted to regain the country they had lost. This attempt failed, and between 1358 and 1410 no Jews who came here were known as such. If they came at all they came as foreigners. Hence, if Solomon Levi came when I suppose that he did, he would find no avowed Jews here at all. This is exactly what occurred. He found himself a stranger in a strange land. His isolation seems not to have preyed on his spirits until a day came whereon isolation was intolerable to a 1 Ozar Nechmad, II. 6.</page><page sequence="4">152 PAUL OF BURGOS IN LONDON. mediaeval Jew. That day was Purim ; the day of mirth and sociality, of wine-bibbing and of cracking of jokes, of buffooneries and mum mings, of choruses and rollicking wine songs. To be alone and sober on such a day was more than Solomon Levi could tolerate. He writes : " All this life-long day, this fit and blessed time, ala s ! that I should tell the tale, my mind was clear from lack of wine, and I could say yes and no at the right places. Still could I bless Mordecai and curse Haman, while, had I imbibed my proper share of strong drink, I should have mingled my curses and my blessings on both alike. My senses retained their nicety, I knew white from blue. Alas ! for a Purim like that ! I had no friend even to send a gift to. But stay. To thee my beloved, my friend, to thee I can send a gift, this letter ; with thee to inspire me I can draw wine more precious than all, till I?a singer of songs in a strange land?become drunk in the wine of the Law." The whole of the letter is cast in this strain. It displays that combination of profound piety and playful irreverence so characteristic of the mediaeval Jew. The letter itself is less remarkable than the writer. When we remember what he became, what a figure he cut in Spanish history, I think that you will agree with me that this scene picturing the future Paul of Burgos refusing to drink wine prepared by non-Jews, and spending a solitary Purim in London in the reign of Richard II., writing about the pleasures of wine without a boon com? panion or a bottle to cheer him?this scene, I say, is one over which it has not been a complete waste of time to linger for a few minutes this evening.</page></plain_text>