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The Association for Providing Free Lectures to Jewish Working Men and their Families, 1869-1879

Harold Pollins

<plain_text><page sequence="1">Jewish Historical Studies, volume 40, 2005 The Association for Providing Free Lectures to Jewish Working Men and Their Families, 1869-1879 HAROLD POLLINS There was intense discussion in the 1860s in the Jewish Chronicle and its short-lived contemporary, the Jewish Record, about the anxiety felt by the middle class about the shortcomings of the Jewish working class. They spent time, it was said, gambling, and there were other unfortunate prac tices as well, such as a sliding away from religion. The answers to these perceived deficiencies were various, including establishing clubs and notably the Reading Rooms set up by the Jewish Association for the Diffusion of Religious Knowledge at Hutchison Street in Aldgate. One solution was to provide them with intellectual provender, and this resulted in the formation of the Association for Providing Free Lectures to Jewish Working Men and their families (sometimes referred to as the Association for Promoting Lectures etc. or the Free Lectures Association). It was one of the precursors of the longer-lived Jewish Working Men's Club and Institute (1874—1912), but has an intrinsic interest in its own right.1 In his brief reference to the Association, Eugene C. Black said that it was '[i]n the great tradition of artisanal self-help'.2 In fact it was hardly this, for a number of reasons. First, the idea for the Association was said to have originated in a suggestion by the Jewish Record. This was asserted by the chairman, Frederic David Mocatta, the philanthropist, at the first lecture of the Association.3 Secondly, the founders were undoubtedly middle class. That first lecture was given by one of them, Ellis A. Davidson, who had been appointed principal art master at the City Middle Class School in 1866 and in 1872 Lecturer on science and art there.4 His co-founders were Lewis 1 Harold Pollins, A History of the Jewish Working Men's Club and Institute 1874-1912 (Oxford 1981). See pp. 5-7 for a brief account of the Association for Providing Free Lectures to Jewish Working Men and their Families, and pp. 7-11 for the Jewish Association Reading Rooms. 2 Eugene C. Black, The Social Politics of Anglo-Jewry 1880-1920 (Oxford 1988) 148. 3 Jewish Record (hereafter JR) 19 March 1869, p. 5. 4 Doreen Berger, The Jewish Victorian: Genealogical Information from the Jewish Newspapers 1871-1880 (Witney, Oxfordshire 1999) 110-11 has many references to him, including that he 121</page><page sequence="2">Harold Pollins Emanuel, a solicitor inter alia to the Board of Deputies and the Association's honorary secretary until 1875,3 and Michael Henry who became editor of the Jewish Chronicle in 1869. These three co-founders were identified in the obituary of the Reverend Aaron Levy Green who was chairman of the Association,6 although Reverend Green had earlier said that Davidson was the founder.7 Third, a correspondent to the Jewish Record thought that the provisional committee ought to be composed of workmen in addition to gentlemen. Some workmen, he wrote, had spoken to him and had expressed a desire to assist in organizing the Association.8 As will be seen, a subsequent attempt to bring workmen a little into the organization's administration proved to be short-lived. Fourth, at the last lecture of the first session, Davidson 'gave some good advice to the working men present concerning their forming clubs for the purpose of instituting lectures themselves, remarking that there were several gentlemen who would be most willing to give them their services.'9 The inference again from this is that working men were absent from the Association's foundation. The meetings of the Association were held during the winter months and there were usually between seven and twelve of them. The lecturers were mostly (male) members of the middle class who were active in the commu nity in all sorts of ways. Another group were young members of the older universities who had recently been allowed to graduate from Oxford and Cambridge. They included Joseph Jacobs, who later became an important researcher into medieval Anglo-Jewish history, and Numa Hartog, the senior wrangler, who lectured before his early demise at the age of twenty five on 19 June 1871. Another was Herbert Bentwich who became honorary secretary to the Association on the retirement of Lewis Emanuel. Bentwich was also elected to the committee of the Jewish Working Men's Club and Institute in 1877.10 The Reverend Green, presiding over the inaugural lecture of the seventh session in November 1875, said: 'The committee congratulated themselves on the circumstances that they had been able to secure the services of gentlemen of the Jewish faith as lecturers. (Cheers.) was a promoter of the Association, but most refer to his numerous lectures and activities in other organizations. 5 Jewish Chronicle (hereafter JC) 8 January 1875, p. 661. 6 JC 16 March 1883, p. 11. 7 JC 27 January 1871, p. 7. 8 JR 14 May 1869, p. 4. 9 JR 3 June 1870, p. 3. 10 M. and N. Bentwich, Herbert Bentwich: The Pilgrim Father (Jerusalem i94o);_7C 23 March 1877, p. 6. 122</page><page sequence="3">Providing Free Lectures to Jewish Working Men and their Families This had not been done from a desire to exclude gentlemen belonging to another creed, but rather with a view to secure a platform whereon Jewish young gentlemen could approach their toiling brethren and give to them the result of their superior training and education. He believed that advan tage to both classes had resulted from such a course. The lecturers had served, as it were, as a bridge to span over the chasm dividing class from class.'11 In fact, use was made of non-Jewish lecturers later on. One was Professor Corfield of University College London who spoke on 'Ventilation in its bearing on health'. Another was Captain W. Parker Snow, late Commander of the Arctic yacht Endeavour, who spoke on 'My adventures in the Arctic'. A third was George D. Hooper who spoke on 'Heroes of industry'. A lecture by Helen Taylor, John Stuart Mill's step-daughter, was referred to in an anti-women's rights letter in the Jewish Chronicle: 'Miss Helen Taylor, recently thought fit to lecture to our working men and women on the theme of "socialism", an attempt to make them dissatisfied with their lot in life which did not meet with marked approval from her audience.'12 The lectures were undoubtedly mainly on 'serious' subjects; one does not read of any element of humour. Davidson used his technical knowledge. His first lecture was on 'The human body, in its relation to health', while another, printed at length in the. Jewish Record, was on 'Printing, its history and practice',13 and still another on 'Motion and locomotion'. In addition there were a number of lectures on Jewish topics. An early one given by Hermann Adler (the future chief rabbi) was published as The Jews of England: A Lecture delivered to Jewish Working Men, by the Rev. Dr. Herntann Adler, at the Spanish and Portuguese Jews' School, on Sunday, May P', 5630-1870.14 Indeed many of the Jewish lecturers spoke on Jewish subjects, such as 'Jewish architecture', 'Jewish friendly societies', 'A sketch of Jewish literature' and 'The decline and fall of the Jewish commonwealth' (this last given by Baron Louis Benas of Liverpool). The very last lecture delivered was given by Joseph Jacobs on the life and times of Judah Halevi. Many lectures were printed, usually briefly. But at least one, untitled, seems to have been printed verbatim, given by Sir John Simon, Serjeant-at Law. The report of the meeting, including the chairman's introduction and vote of thanks, took up most of a large page in the Jewish World.15 Most lectures were on secular subjects, however, even those by Jewish lecturers. Arthur Sebag Montefiore spoke on 'The minstrel singers in u JC 3 December 1875, p. 574. 12 JC 31 January 1879, p. 5. 13 JR 16 December 1870, p. 3. 14 London, 1870. Oxford, Bodleian Library, ioo.g. 113. 3. 15 Jewish World 28 February 1973, p. 3. 123</page><page sequence="4">Harold Pollins Europe during the Middle Ages', Lionel L. Alexander (a member of the Stock Exchange who was honorary secretary of the Jewish Board of Guardians from 1883 until 1893) spoke on 'Reading and speaking', Numa Hartog spoke on 'The revolution of 1688' and Joseph Jacobs spoke on the 'The nervous system'. One can obtain a partial view of how the lectures were received by reports in the newspapers. The first lecture by Davidson, in March 1869, was delivered at the Jews' Infants School, Commercial Road, to a crowd so large that there was insufficient room and he was 'frequently interrupted' by loud applause.16 A sizeable crowd also attended the last lecture of the first session, in May 1869. 'The school-room, though rather large, was so densely crowded that many who would doubtlessly have gained greatly by this interesting and highly entertaining entertainment had to be unavoid ably excluded.' A bigger venue was clearly needed.17 In contrast, when Davidson gave an apparently impromptu speech on 'A thing of beauty is a joy for ever', 'the Jewish working men present were very few in number'.18 But the following month, when a series of readings took the place of a lecture, it was again crowded.19 An editorial in the Jewish Record20 stated that the Association needed the co-operation of the working class, who should attend lectures not in dozens but in the fifties and hundreds. The evidence for popular support is unclear. In the first session, 1869-70, the necessary money to support the meet ings was obtained from occasional gifts from middle-class supporters. Nine lectures were given at a cost of £33 and the income received was £2o.21 At a meeting held towards the end of November 1870 a new constitution took effect. The lectures were to be entirely self-supporting, but while tickets would be sold to the middle class, the working class were to continue to attend gratis. (In February 1871 they were described as five-shilling season tickets.22) At the same time there was to be a change in the structure of the committee: workmen were to be included. In practice they were appointed to a sub-committee (later called an auxiliary committee) which was to co operate with the existing committee. Three of these were A. Van Gelder, a warden of Sandys Row Synagogue, G. P. Phillips and a Mr Van Praagh.23 A fourth was named as Isaac Phillips who chaired a lecture in March 1871 JR 19 March 1869, p. 5. JC 4 June 1869, p. 10. JR 22 April 1870, p. 6. JR 20 May 1870, p. 5. JR 2 December 1870, p. 4. JR 25 November 1870, p. 5. JR 10 February 1871, p. 3. JR 30 December 1870, p. 5. 124</page><page sequence="5">Providing Free Lectures to Jewish Working Men and their Families given by the Reverend John Chapman on 'Passages from the lives of cele brated working men'. It was pointed out that the lecturer was the son of a working man.24 Chapman was for a time headmaster of the Jews' Hospital and Orphan Asylum and his wife was a mistress at the Asylum.25 At the next meeting of the auxiliary committee the chairman was Godfrey P. Phillips.26 In the meantime musical entertainments were introduced into the programme. The first was a combined meeting of a lecture and a musical entertainment and attracted, according to one account, 'probably the largest Jewish assemblage ever gathered under one roof in this country'.27 One long newspaper report started: 'A monster meeting assembled in the girls' room of the Jews' Free School, on Sunday evening last, less, we think, to hear the lecturer, Mr. Davidson, than to ascertain who and what the Netherlands Choral Society was'.28 It was directed by its conductor, J. L. Mombach, the well-known choirmaster of the Great Synagogue. But outside the building, in the street, there was a scene of great confusion, the report continued. It poured with rain, the mud was ankle-deep in Bell Lane and people 'shrieked and pushed in endeavouring to obtain admittance'. Many of the middle-class supporters went home in frustration, as did the chairman, Nathaniel Montefiore, who had been unable to enter the building. Mr Phillips, of the auxiliary committee, proposed that Henry L. Keeling, a fruit merchant active in the City of London and in the Jewish community, should be the chairman. A show of hands carried the motion, but the response of Mr Keeling could not be heard above the hubbub. The meeting began with the Netherlands choir singing the National Anthem and then Davidson began his lecture, 'but for a long time he could not be heard, and from time to time he was disturbed'. He cut short his lecture and the choir performed extracts from the Magic Flute. The meeting concluded with a poem written and recited by a member of the Choral Society - in the doggerel style of William McGonagall - which stated its objects. The paper printed an extract, of which part read: We are all working men, seeking approbation, We're brothers of one faith, and brothers of one nation; With sweat on our brow we have many a sad trial, But our honour we maintain in this there's no denial. 24 jfR 17 March 1871, p. 3. 25 Berger (see n. 4) 76. 26 JR 31 March 1871, p. 2. 27 _7C 10 February 1871, p. 2. 28 J7? 10 February 1871, p. 3. For the Netherlands Choral Society see Harold Pollins, 'The Netherlands Choral &amp; Dramatic Club', Shemot X, no. 1 (March 2002) 23-5. 125</page><page sequence="6">Harold Pollins After working and toiling all through the week, We assemble for recreation, which is really a treat; I am certain my friends that it is well agreed That our Society keeps many from an evil deed. It prevents us from card playing and visiting public houses.. . The reporter concluded that the committee had been at fault in having the two different activities on the same night. Although the report does not say so, some blame for the apparent chaos may have been levelled at the members of the auxiliary committee. However, the main cause of the ending of the auxiliary committee was probably a lecture by I. J. Simmonds, a member of the committee, on 'The history of Jewish coinage'. After the lecture Louis Barnett Abrahams (a former pupil of the Jews' Free School, later its headmaster and editor of the Jewish Record) proposed a vote of thanks in which he praised the speaker: 'instead of passing his leisure time in frivolous amusement he had devoted his few spare hours after his daily toil to the study of a subject which required no little labour in order to comprehend it properly'. Simmonds, though, in responding, rather spoilt it by beginning to complain that another workman had not been allowed to lecture. At this point the chairman, the Reverend Green, interrupted him and told him not to interfere with what was the business of the committee: 'They were the best judges as to whom the privilege of lecturing should be granted and refused.'29 A week later the newspaper printed a letter from someone who had been at Simmonds' lecture. He said that working men should not give lectures; the one he had heard was badly done and many facts were wrong.30 The last meeting of the session was devoted to a musical concert, reported as a great success. It was under the direction of Charles Kensington Salaman, a prominent musician and composer. The perform ers included women, who thenceforth took part in musical entertainments. But it was also the occasion when the auxiliary committee was disbanded. They had, it was said, been responsible for keeping order.31 In addition, it was said at the first meeting of the next session that their job had been to distribute tickets for the meetings.32 The attempt to introduce a small element of democracy into the Association proved fruitless. It may perhaps have been a factor in the establishment in 1874 of the Jewish Working Men's Club and Institute. 29 JR 7 April 1871, p. 3; Gerry Black, J. F.S: The History of the Jews' Free School since 1732 (London 1998) 137-40. 30 JR 14 April 1871, p. 2. 31 JR 2 June 1871, p. 6. 32 : JC 29 December 1871, p. ! I2Ô</page><page sequence="7">Providing Free Lectures to Jewish Working Men and their Families In addition, as a result of the disorderly scene the use of the Jews' Free School was withdrawn and the next meetings were held at the Spanish &amp; Portuguese School Room in Heneage Lane. By 1874 meetings took place at the Jews' Infants School, Commercial Road, where they remained until the end. In the meantime musical entertainments became normal parts of the programme. For example, in February 1876 a concert was given under the direction of Louis Emanuel, A.R.A.M. It included performances by Miss Bella Green (daughter of A. L. Green), Miss Grace Lindo and Miss Katie Samuel (daughter of the Reverend I. Samuel). The programme indicated that Grace Lindo gave readings, Bella Green played the piano and Katie Samuel sang. The musical pieces were by Mendelssohn, Gounod and Bellini.33 Towards the end of the whole series, in December 1878, '[p]erhaps the largest audience ever congregated in the Jews' Infant School was assembled there on Sunday evening for a concert given under the auspices of the Association for Providing Free Lectures to Jewish Working Men, and under the immediate direction of Mr. J. L. Mombach'. The choirs of the Great and New Synagogues opened with Mombach's 'Hallelujah' followed by a 'Hebrew Bacchanale', composed by the Reverend M. Hast (First Reader of the Great Synagogue) and sung by his daughter. There were selections from Handel's 'Judas Maccabeus', sung by Mombach, Katie Samuel and Miss Hast. The two women also sang the solos of the chorus 'See the Conquering Hero Comes' and other pieces.34 The last session came to an end in May 1879. There appear to have been two reasons for the Association's demise. The most immediate one may have been the death of Ellis A. Davidson at the early age of forty-eight on 9 March 1878. His two co-founders of the Association were no longer there: Michael Henry had died in 1875 and Lewis Emanuel had retired as honorary secretary also in the same year. Then, perhaps more important, the Jewish Working Men's Club and Institute had come into existence in 1874, located in Hutchison House off Gravel Lane, Aldgate. These were the same premises as the Reading Rooms of the Jewish Association for the Diffusion of Religious Knowledge, whose president was Samuel Montagu, the banker, and who was closely associated with the successor Working Men's Club. Although the latter was not free - members paid a small fee - it was immediately successful, large numbers attending its lectures, debates, entertainments and sports societies. The obituary of the Reverend Green, referring to his connection with the Free Lectures Association, stated that 'He continued his co-operation until the movement, which may 33 jfC 18 February 1876, p. 754. 34 JC 3 January 1879, p. 12. 127</page><page sequence="8">Harold Pollins be regarded as the parent of the Jewish Working Men's Club, retired in favour of its youthful offspring.'35 At one of the earliest of the Association's lectures Davidson had advocated the creation of a working men's club 'where a working man could go of an evening without having recourse to the public house'.36 More specifically, at a meeting a few weeks later, after a lecture by Davidson, 'A vote of thanks was passed on the motion of Mr. [Nathaniel] Montefiore [the chairman]; and Mr. Davidson, in returning thanks, advocated the expediency of establishing a Jewish Working Men's Club, in association with the "Working Men's Club and Institute Union".'37 In 1877 there was a discussion as to the advisability of continuing the Association, in view of the success of the Jewish Working Men's Club. It was decided to go on because the Working Men's Club was not free and had no accommodation for large numbers of people, while the Association still had large attendances.38 A year later the annual report of the Association stated that it hoped to hand over the work to some organization willing and able to continue it with even greater success. The reason for this volte face was stated to be the inexpediency of multiplying institutions of the same character in the Jewish community.39 In practice it is noteworthy that lecturers to the Working Men's Club were often the same as those to the Association, even repeating the same lectures. The first given by a non-Jew was by G. D. Hooper on 'Heroes of industry'. Helen Taylor also spoke, on 'Toleration', and among other lecturers were John Simon, Hermann Adler, Joseph Jacobs and Lionel L. Alexander. The 1878-9 session proved to be the last in the Association's life, bring ing to an end this interesting exercise in adult education for the poorer Jews of the East End. 35 JC 16 March 1883, p. 11. 36 JR 3° April 1869, p. 2. 37 JC 14 June 1869, p. 10. 38 JC 30 November 1877, p. 11. 39 JC 25 October 1878, p. 10. 128</page></plain_text>