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The young Cecil Roth, 1899-1924

Geoffrey Alderman

<plain_text><page sequence="1">The young Cecil Roth, 1899-1924 GEOFFREY ALDERMAN1 Kingsland High Street is a short thoroughfare running almost exactly south to north between the districts of Dalston and Shacklewell, in the north London borough of Hackney; to its east runs Ridley Road, site of a bustling market but, sixty years ago, more famous as a rallying ground of the British Union of Fascists. Today the neighbourhood of Kingsland is inhabited largely by people of Afro Caribbean origin; it is now, as it was sixty years ago, a working-class area, whose families are extremely cash-limited. There are now, as there were then, pockets of affluence, but Kingsland has not followed the example of nearby Canonbury, which has become gentrified. Today few Jews live in Kingsland. A mile or so to its north there is, it is true, a thriving enclave of sectarian Orthodox Jews, mainly Hasidim, living in the vicinities of Stoke Newington and Stamford Hill. But the neighbourhood of Kingsland itself is an area of declining Jewish population and decaying Jewish institutional life. It was not always thus. A century ago Kingsland High Street lay at the very centre of a thriving, expanding Jewish population. A picturesque village in Middlesex which had been unable to escape the remorseless encroachment of the nation's capital, Kingsland had become a London suburb - part, indeed, of the County of London created by Act of Parliament in 1888. It was a prosperous area, into which a Jewish merchant, shop-keeping and skilled-artisan class had been moving, slowly, for the past twenty or so years, part of a larger movement of Jews out of the City of London and Whitechapel - the 'East End' - which had formed the nucleus of Jewish settlement in London in the 18th and early 19th centuries. The late Dr Vivian Lipman estimated that in 1880 the contiguous areas of Highbury, Canonbury, Dalston and South Hackney contained around 5000 Jews; within the space of half a century the numbers had increased by a factor of seven or eight.2 Proposals for a synagogue in Dalston had been mooted in the early 1870s, and in 1874 a house of worship had been established in Birkbeck Road, east of, and parallel to, Kingsland High Street; two years later this site was vacated in favour of one in Mildmay Road, west of the High Street. At that time the Council of the umbrella United Synagogue (created by Act of Parliament in 1870) considered the idea of admitting this community to membership to be premature. But by the time a fresh proposal had been drafted, in 1881, the situation had * Paper presented to the Society on 18 July 1996. I</page><page sequence="2">Geoffrey Alderman changed, in that many more Jews were then to be found in the Dalston catchment area. In 1885 the Dalston Synagogue (by now located in Poets Road, Canonbury) was admitted as the United Synagogue's eleventh constituent congregation.3 It was into this area of aspiring Jewish gentility that Cecil Roth was born, on Sunday 5 March 1899.4 His father, Joseph (1866-1924), later said to have been a builders' merchant and even a manufacturer of builders' supplies, then described himself, on the birth certificate, as a 'lead and glass merchant'.5 Glazing was a not uncommon occupation among Jews in Poland, where Joseph himself had been born, and it is likely that he learnt the trade before settling in London, where he met and married Etty Jacobs (1868 [?]-i952), who originated from Sheffield, where she had been born and where her family had lived for several generations. Cecil - in Hebrew, Bezalel - was the fourth and youngest child of the marriage, having three elder brothers, David, Daniel and Leon. When Leon had been born in 1896 the family lived in Victoria Park Road, practically in Bethnal Green, on the edge of the East End. Perhaps, therefore, the move to Kingsland reflected the fact that Joseph's business had prospered in the meantime. Irene Roth describes the household which Etty and Joseph built as 'comfortable, though not opulent'.6 Joseph was certainly of sufficient means to provide for the private edu? cation of his children, both in secular and in religious subjects. Of Roth's early - what would now be called elementary - education we know nothing; it seems reasonable to surmise that his father employed private tutors for this purpose. Professor Raphael Loewe, in his memoir of Leon (from 1928 to 1953 Professor of Philosophy at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem), has, however, provided us with invaluable information about the religious education of Joseph's sons: The Dalston, Stoke Newington, Stamford Hill area is one which, in the late nineteenth century, was popular amongst middle-class English Jewry characterized by a strong Jewish allegiance and sturdy degree of Jewish practical observance, not infrequently combined with an awareness and concern for English and western European values . . . The home environment typified this. Joseph Roth would, whenever opportunity offered, lead his sons off to inspect the latest arrivals on the booksellers' shelves, and he himself gave them a first-class Jewish education, employing for the purpose the 'Ivrith be'ivrith method - i.e., Hebrew taught as a spoken language. As a Hebrew teacher for his sons he engaged Mr Moses Vilensky, a gentleman of deep Hebrew learning.7 This environment, and the educational experience incorporated into it, were to have on Cecil some effects of lasting and fundamental importance. Cecil grew up in a household which was punctiliously observant in respect of the minutiae of Orthodox Judaism: the Sabbath and Holy Days were observed; the dietary laws were kept; study of the Torah and the Talmud were part of everyday life.8 As Professor Gartner has observed, Cecil was 'spared attendance at the tedious Religion Classes of local synagogues'.9 Morris, or 'Moshe' Vilensky (d. 1969), a 2</page><page sequence="3">The young Cecil Roth native of Lithuania who had studied at the renowned talmudic academies -yeshi vot - of Tels and Volozhin, was then in his twenties, and turned out to be an inspiring and dedicated teacher of Torah-true Judaism.10 But he was no funda? mentalist, being steeped in Western culture, a reminder that the Roth household valued learning in the round and that the Judaism it professed was in no sense obscurantist, reflecting rather the outlook of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch of Frankfurt - Torah im Derech Eretz: Orthodox Judaism combined with secular learning and secular pursuits.11 We should also note the significance of Ivrith be Hvrith, a form of teaching which was then very much avant garde, and generally a sign of Zionist inclinations. Cecil learnt Hebrew as a living language; he spoke, wrote and read Hebrew with great ease, but his Yiddish was never of this standard. Of Yiddish he was, indeed, inclined to be brutally unromantic, though it is likely that his father spoke it more or less fluently.12 Yiddish was, at this time, in the closing decades of the 19th century, a favourite target of the assimilationist lobby within Anglo-Jewry, whose objective was its eradication from among the teeming thousands of Jewish immigrants pouring into London from Russia, Poland and Romania.13 The Roth household saw itself as thoroughly English as well as thor? oughly Jewish. Of the young Cecil during these years we know little. A formal photograph of him, aged four, in the customary sailor's suit, presents a round-faced, curly-haired boy, thoughtful as he looks at the camera.14 On 23 November 1910 his father made a formal application for him to be admitted to the City of London School. And in January 1911 he entered Class ij, form-master Mr H. H. Mittell.15 In one sense the choice of school was automatic, since it was to the City of London School that Cecil's three brothers had gone before him. Joseph and Etty did not send their sons to Jewish secondary schools, such as the Jews' Free School, Spitalfields, which was overflowing with the children of recent immigrants, or to any of the other Jewish schools in the capital. By the 1890s it was generally agreed that the overriding purpose of such schools was now merely to aid the acculturation and social assimilation of immigrant, Yiddish-speaking children.16 Nor, on the other hand, were Cecil and his brothers enrolled in any of the great 'public' schools, such as Harrow or Clifton College, Bristol (which had acquired a Jewish 'house' in 1879).17 The Roths were well-to-do, but not what one would call wealthy; they had by now moved to 76 Queen's Road, Finsbury Park, an area of bourgeois villas, but not to be compared with Kensington or Hampstead. From the mid-1870s there had been an observable tendency for Jewish parents of solid middle-class status, in London, to send their sons to non-Jewish fee paying schools, as day-pupils. The City of London School was one of the most popular. The school had been established by the Corporation of the City of London in 1837, using moneys left in the estate of John Carpenter, Town Clerk of London, in 1442; in 1883 new school premises had been opened on the Embankment of the River Thames, near St Paul's cathedral, by the Prince of 3</page><page sequence="4">Geoffrey Alderman Wales (later Edward VII). The school, a convenient tram-ride from Finsbury Park, offered an education in the great classical tradition, but was noteworthy also for the prominence given to mathematics and the sciences, and to the study of English; the first chemistry lesson at any English school had been given at the City of London in 1847, ana&lt; m ^?o it was the only school in England at which pupils were obliged to study English language and literature. Moreover - a great attraction for Orthodox Jewish parents - the school had, from the outset, imposed no religious test on those requesting admission. Its record of achievement was already very considerable. When Cecil was enrolled, Herbert Henry Asquith was Prime Minister; Asquith had been a pupil at the school in the late 1860s.18 The school was then under the headmastership of the Revd Arthur Chilton, an Oxford graduate in his late forties. Chilton's 'first interest lay in the Church'.19 But City of London had a long record of accommodating Jewish boys. Former pupils included Sir Israel Gollancz, a founder of the British Academy, Sir Sidney Lee, editor of the Dictionary of National Biography, Israel Davis, proprietor of the Jewish Chronicle from 1876 to 1908, and Sir Lionel Abrahams, Assistant Under-Secretary in the India Office at the time of Cecil's arrival at the school; Edwin Montagu, subsequently Secretary of State for India, a son of the banker Samuel Montagu, founder (in 1887) of the London-based Federation of Syn? agogues, had been a pupil at the school in the 1890s. Cecil moved, therefore, in a company of potential Jewish 'high-fliers'; the list of names on the School Hon? ours tablets provided plenty of role models for him to emulate. Surviving records of the school for this period are few, but they enable us to trace Cecil's progress at least in outline. We are also fortunate in that the anonym? ous 'Old Citizen' (as old boys of the school are known) whose reminiscences of the period 1911-14 form a chapter in the second edition of the centenary history, was an exact contemporary of Cecil, admitted also into Mr MittelPs form, the First Junior, and promoted, along with Cecil, into the 'Classical Remove' in 1912, then into 'Classical IIP the following year and to 'Classical IV in 1914.20 Cecil's form-mate wrote: 'After I left School and met boys from the English boarding-schools I began to realize how different in many ways my education had been from theirs. The advantage . . . appeared to be almost wholly with us. What I value as I look back on C.[ity of] L.[ondon] S.[chool] is the extreme naturalness of our attitude to life - to books, ideas, politics, art, human beings, and life itself. ... it never occurred to us to consider intellectual interests peculiar ... I vividly recall trying to persuade Cecil Roth that anti-Semitism was dead in modern Europe; I have often wanted to apologize to him since for my ignorance'.21 Cecil was marked out for the school's classical side - that is, for an academic education geared to university entrance, primarily Oxford and Cambridge. In the Classical Upper Fourth, when aged 15, his form-master was A. J. Spilsbury, a 'scholar and gentleman', and in the Classical Fifth he came under the aegis of 4</page><page sequence="5">The young Cecil Roth F. W. Hill, an accomplished mathematician and formerly a fellow of St John's College, Cambridge.22 There is a tradition that Cecil was something of a 'swot'. Certainly, we do not find him taking any prominent part in games or athletics, or indeed in any strictly extracurricular activity. Cecil was a young scholar of sedent? ary disposition, neither seeking nor obtaining any position of responsibility. His name is not to be found among the list of school prefects. But he became a holder of the coveted Salomons' Scholarship, established in 1845 by Sir David Salomons (the first professing Jew to be elected a Sheriff of the City of London, 1835) in commemoration of 'the removal of those civil disabilities which formerly attached to the Jewish subjects of this realm' - a reference to the passage of legislation that year which permitted professing Jews to hold municipal office.23 Cecil received the Salomons' Scholarship at the annual prize distribution held at the school on Wednesday 25 July 1917. The printed programme also reveals that he was awarded one of two 'John Carpenter Club English History Prizes'.24 While at the school, and no doubt encouraged by his father, Cecil had clearly developed a great affection for rare books, for which he searched in the many antiquarian bookshops then to be found in the vicinity of the school.25 Perhaps, in this way, his love for history had also been nurtured. But his plans to proceed from the school to read history at Oxford had to be postponed on account of the Great War. On leaving the City of London he was conscripted into the Territorial Rifle Brigade, and then transferred into the Somerset Light Infantry.26 His army service lasted less than two years. In later life he was accustomed to gloss over this period, and to give the impression that it represented an irritating hiccup, an unwanted but necessary interruption in his scholastic career. In fact his war service left on him an indelible impression: like so many young men of his time, it formed a distinct watershed, a turning point in his life. In 1917 the Allied war effort against the central powers - Germany, Austria and Turkey - reached its nadir. Unrestricted submarine warfare by Germany wrought havoc with the shipping of food to Britain: in April 1917 British reserves of wheat dwindled to six weeks' supply.27 Although the activities of the U-boats had brought America into the war, it was to be some considerable time before American troops made their contribution on the field of battle. The March revolu? tion in Russia had toppled the Tsar, but although the Kerensky government pledged itself to continue military operations, it was clear that Russia was on the brink of collapse; the Bolshevik revolution the following October took Russia out of the war, thus permitting Germany to withdraw men and materials from the Eastern Front and redeploy them in the west. The third battle of Ypres - Passch endaele - raged for three months (31 July-6 November) and resulted in appalling loss of life for a British advance of precisely four miles into Belgium. Further south, at Cambrai, a thrust by British tanks seemed to have succeeded (20 Nov ember-7 December) but there was no infantry follow-up, and the Germans were able to regain all the territory they had lost. The German generals made plans 5</page><page sequence="6">Geoffrey Alderman for a spring offensive (March and April 1918), designed to drive a wedge between the French and British forces in Flanders, and to capture the ports of Calais and Dunkirk. It was into the mud of Flanders that Cecil was ordered towards the end of 1917. At this time the Somerset Light Infantry had four battalions in France and Belgium - the first, the sixth, the seventh and the eighth.28 From the account later given by Cecil to his wife, it seems that he had been drafted into the eighth, which had taken heavy losses at both Arras in April and at Ypres.29 In the spring of 1918 the battalion was ordered to the Somme to meet the German advance, and spent most of the summer in that area of eastern France which had seen the worst savagery of the Great War. 'The utter desolation of the Somme country at this period [the Somersets' official historian later explained] was terrible to see .. . gaping shell holes were everywhere .. . villages as piles of rubble ... the earth blood soaked and stinking with the rotting corpses that lay beneath its surface.'30 The German advance was halted. In October the British reached the Scheldt Canal, and on 9 October Cambrai was liberated. Cecil's battalion was present at this battle, after which it followed the retreating Germans northwards into Belgium, enduring 'long marches, little sleep, constant vigilance harassed by machine gun fire, and constantly shelled heavily'.31 On 4 and 5 November 1918 the eighth battalion took part in the battle of the Sambre, the last battle of the Great War. Germany was already in a state of economic and social collapse; on 11 November the Allied terms for an armistice were agreed, and the guns stopped firing. Early in 1919 the eighth sailed back to England for disbandment. In her account Cecil's widow makes light of his war service and experience. 'I never found out the exact nature of his exploits on the field of battle', Irene confessed; 'He never told me about them.'32 Apparently he acted as his unit's official interpreter and 'company orderly'. He lost his wallet and found it again. He was nearly shot in the foot during rifle practice. He carried the Hebrew Bible given him by his mother, and used it to conduct an impromptu burial service for a Christian comrade. His timely intervention prevented his unit from retreating in the wrong direction. But we can be reasonably certain that Cecil's wartime service was much less of a boy-scout's adventure than a grim and shocking encounter with inhumanity, disease and death. The shy, scholarly sixth-former served as a private in a con? script army, in which bawdy songs and lewd entertainment were subjects of every? day conversation. These facts of life cannot have escaped his notice. Observance of the Jewish dietary laws and of the sabbaths and holy days was exceedingly difficult if not impossible. In these circumstances religious faith is easily shaken, and it is a tribute to Cecil's upbringing and outlook that his appears to have survived more or less intact. There is one aspect of Cecil's war service that deserves special consideration. The eighth battalion of the Somersets faced the German offensive on the Somme in the spring of 1918. In that battle the Germans fired some 500,000 shells filled 6</page><page sequence="7">The young Cecil Roth with mustard gas, which attacks the respiratory system and generally causes severe blistering. It is just possible that the very distinctive voice which became one of the hallmarks of a Cecil Roth lecture - at one moment guttural, and highpitched at the next - might, therefore, have been caused by the after-effects of a gas attack.33 A fact beyond dispute is that Cecil entered war service as a lowly private, and never rose above that rank. His lack of qualities of leadership has already been noted in relation to his school career. He had not been a pre-war member of the school's Officer Training Corps, indulging in route marches through Epping Forest or Richmond Park, and attending camp at Henley; and although member? ship of the OTC became compulsory in 1916, its impact on him seems to have been negligible.34 Cecil lacked military bearing, but, more importantly, he was simply not leadership material.35 For all the stories he told of comradeship and exciting times on the Western Front, he did not take to regimental life. The magazine of the Somerset Light Infantry carried no obituary of him, but for this omission Cecil himself was to blame, since he appears deliberately not to have maintained any contact with his old regiment.36 Following demobilization early in 1919 he put his wartime experiences firmly behind him, and tried to bury the shocking images it had created. Oxford called. Cecil entered Oxford not 'in the fall of 1919', as his widow alleges, but at the very beginning of the year.37 The records of Merton College show that he was matriculated into the university on 21 January 1919, and that he came into resid? ence in the Hilary (spring) Term that year.38 In all, he was to spend five-and-a-half years at the college, first as an undergraduate, then as a BLitt student and finally as an 'Advanced Student', reading for the DPhil degree. We can only speculate why he chose to study at Merton, and not at Exeter College, which his brother Leon had attended. Perhaps the reason was financial. In 1918, when he was still in the army, Cecil had been awarded an Exhibition by Merton to read for the Final Honour School of Modern History. How he came by this award is also unclear. Cecil was definitely not in receipt of one of the four Exhibitions conferred by Merton annually, and worth ?80 a year. In the 1918 Oxford University Calendar he is described as one of the Merton Exhibitioners 'not on the Foundation'. In addition to paying the Foundation Exhibitioners, Merton administered an Exhibi? tion Fund for the purpose of assisting 'poor students' in their undergraduate studies.39 Such awards were made to candidates who 'show merit in the Postmas tership examination and prove to the electors that they are in need of assistance at the University and are otherwise deserving'. The presumption must be, there? fore, that while still in the army Cecil had taken the Postmastership examination and that on account of his erudition, and the means at his and his parents' disposal, he had been granted one of these supernumerary scholarships. Cecil definitely could not have chosen Merton on account of the reputation of its history tuition. Until 1921 the college had no history tutors of its own. Instead, Merton undergraduates reading history were sent to the Revd Arthur Johnson</page><page sequence="8">Geoffrey Alderman (1845-1927), a Fellow of All Souls College who from 1884 to 1923 was respons? ible for the bulk of the tuition delivered to Merton's undergraduate historians. In its obituary of him, The Times described Johnson as one who 'cared nothing for dogma and knew nothing of theology', but also as 'one of the broader minded thinkers in the University' who was equally at home in 'all periods of English and European history since the fall of the Roman Empire'.40 He was, however, the author of a then standard work on Europe in the Sixteenth Century, and an authority on Dante; it was Johnson, indeed, who tutored Cecil for the special subject on Dante which he read as part of his BA degree.41 It is unlikely that as an undergraduate Cecil was taught by anyone other than Arthur Johnson, though we should note that the then Librarian of Merton was Percy Stafford Allen (1869-1933), the internationally renowned Erasmus scholar who was subsequently to become President of Corpus Christ College. We know that Cecil breakfasted with Percy Allen, and we may reasonably conjecture that Allen's influence, underpinned and bolstered by Johnson's tuition, drew Cecil inexorably towards the Renaissance period, and more especially towards Renais? sance Florence.42 It was at Johnson's suggestion that Cecil spent the summer long vacation of 1921 in Italy. Armed with a letter of introduction from his father's friend Dr Adolf B?chler, the Principal of Jews' College, London, Cecil travelled to Flor? ence, where he made the acquaintance of Rabbi Samuel Margulies, through whom he was introduced to the Jewish quarter of the city. It was, as Irene has observed, the beginning of Cecil's intellectual and emotional involvement with the history of Italian Jewry.43 Cecil's gifts as a researcher and writer of history were never in doubt. In 1921 the essay that he submitted for the university's Stanhope Historical Essay Prize - The Influence of George III on the Development of the Constitution - received an honourable mention and earned him ?3,44 The following year, on his obtaining First Class Honours in the Final Examinations for the BA, his college awarded him the Parker Prize (worth ?10) from its Exhibition Fund.45 The circumstances surrounding the manner in which he sat his Finals have given rise to a great deal of romanticized misunderstanding. In those days, two examination papers were scheduled to be written on a Saturday. As an observant Jew, Cecil declined absolutely to write examinations on the Shabbat. His widow, in asserting that he therefore 'missed these two papers, but nevertheless ... graduated with first class honours' has perhaps relied on the account given in a letter dated 22 May 1936, written to a Mr Rafilovich by Herbert Loewe, who from 1914 to 1931 (with a break for war service) was Lecturer in Hebrew at Exeter College.46 In that letter Loewe addressed the vexed question of special invigilation for Orthodox Jewish students at Oxford who would otherwise have been obliged to write examination papers on the Shabbat: 'Matters came to a head somewhere about 1924 [sic] when C. Roth of Merton, having declared that in no circum 8</page><page sequence="9">The young Cecil Roth stances would he take the examination on Sabbath and having failed to obtain invigilation, simply absented himself from Saturday papers. He obtained a First none the less, but when it was discovered that he had absented himself, there was a great deal of trouble. However, his name was not expunged from the [class] list.' Had Cecil really absented himself without prior permission, and had he really not written two of the required papers, he could never possibly have been classified. The examination statutes of Oxford then in force allowed the Vice Chancellor to consent to a candidate absenting himself from Saturday papers, and to permit examiners to include that candidate's name in the class list, provided that special papers were set; of course, they might give an unclassified aegrotat degree on a smaller number of papers. What happened in 1922 was that Cecil gave notice - apparently to the Board of Examiners - that he would not sit papers on a Saturday, but made no individual, formal application to the Vice-Chancellor for a dispensation. The relevant Minute Book of the Board of Examiners for the Final Honours School of Modern History makes it clear that by order of the then chairman of the Board, Keith Feiling (1884-1977), and notwithstanding Cecil's failure to make a formal application, two special papers were in fact set, and that, additionally, Cecil was subjected to a prolonged viva voce examination, but that the prior permission of the Vice Chancellor was not obtained by the Board, though the Pro-Vice-Chancellor sub sequendy endorsed the action taken.47 In 1930 the relevant statute was altered, with the result that the power of the Vice-Chancellor to give leave for special papers to be set disappeared. There followed a long campaign in which Herbert Loewe, Cecil Roth, Chief Rabbi Hertz and others engaged, to allow the special invigilation of Orthodox Jewish candidates at Oxford, a campaign which was crowned with success only as late as 1949. In 1921, with just two years of his undergraduate career behind him, Cecil formerly applied to read for the BLitt degree. The statutes of the university permitted any person who had been matriculated into the university to be admitted to read for the BLitt provided the student possessed a BA or similar degree, or 'had given evidence ... that he has received a good general education'.48 Cecil was obviously able to provide such evidence. Accordingly, he was admitted as a BLitt student by the Board of the Faculty of Modern History on 14 June 1921.49 The BLitt degree had been introduced at Oxford in 1895, and owed much to the influence of the great Cromwellian historian Charles Harding Firth (1857 1936), who from 1904 to 1925 occupied the Regius Chair of Modern History at the university. Firth devoted much of his academic life to the professionalization of history, a view which was strenuously opposed by most of the college lecturers in history at this time. They regarded the study of history as nothing more than part of a general, liberal education; Firth was more interested in reforming the teaching of history at Oxford so that it provided a training for the working histor? ian. His colleagues looked to history to provide lessons in prose and morality. He 9</page><page sequence="10">Geoffrey Alderman saw it as a science, not a form of literature, and complained long and loudly that the Final Honours School of Modern History tested memory and the mere recita? tion of facts; it should not be possible, he urged, for a student to obtain the highest class of honours without any training in historical research. In arguing thus Firth faced an uphill struggle. But he was able to persuade the history faculty to modify the BA examination so as to allow candidates to submit dissertations; and the sanctioning first of the BLitt and later, in 1917, the DPhil, owed a great deal to his efforts.50 The subject of Cecil's BLitt dissertation was initially 'The Last Florentine Republic, 1527-1530', but was subsequently changed to 'The Last Florentine Republic; 1527 to the Fall of Niccolo Capponi' (in other words April 1529). The dissertation was submitted on 1 December 1922, and must have been examined some time between then and the following January, for on 1 February 1923 the Modern History Board issued Cecil with the necessary certificate to supplicate for the BLitt degree. Cecil's supervisor for the BLitt was Edward Armstrong (1846-1928), Fellow of Queen's College and an international authority on early-modern European history in general, and on Renaissance Florence in particular; his entry in the Dictionary of National Biography, written by a fellow Renaissance scholar Cecilia Ady (1881-1958), Tutor of St Hugh's College, refers to him as the leading English specialist on the Italian Renaissance, a subject in which he had 'almost the monopoly' at Oxford.51 Like Firth, Armstrong believed passionately in the value of researching history as well as of teaching it, and in the need for historians to professionalize themselves. Under his influence, Cecil appears to have taken the decision to join this comparatively young profession, if he could. He discussed with Armstrong the possibility of turning the modest BLitt dissertation into a DPhil thesis. But what, precisely, was the difference between the quality and quantity of work needed for the two degrees? On this matter the examination statutes were silent, save that the regulations for the DPhil made it clear that not only was 'research' required, but that a written examination, consisting of two papers, must also have been passed.52 In November 1922 Cecil wrote to his supervisor asking for an explanation of the precise differences between the BLitt dissertation and the DPhil thesis. Arm? strong passed the letter onto the Regius Professor, Firth, who replied directly to Cecil in the following terms: 'I do not know whether you are a candidate for the B. Litt or the D. Phil. For the latter original research is indispensable - for the B. Litt it is not absolutely essential, but a certain amount of it is required. How much depends largely on the examiners, who vary with every candidate. A thesis is not a book &amp; it is undesirable to give at any great length information of a general character derived from published histories. It is better to summarise what is already well known &amp; dwell more at length on the new facts or views you wish to set forth. Moreover, as I have already said the views of examiners differ a good deal &amp; the requirements of the [examination] statutes are vague.'53 10</page><page sequence="11">The young Cecil Roth Cecil's examiners for his BLitt were Cecilia Ady and Cesare Foligno (1878 1963). Foligno, translator of the Canterbury Tales into Italian and at this time a Fellow of Queen's College, was primarily a student of late-medieval Italian his? tory. Educated at the Academia Scientifico-Letteraraia, Milan, his visits to the British Museum in and after 1903 had brought him to the attention of Oxford, where he was appointed Taylorian Lecturer in Italian in 1909; in 1919 he became the university's first holder of its new Chair of Italian Studies, founded by Arturo Serena.54 Cecil could not have known just how impressed Ady and Foligno were to be with his BLitt dissertation when he applied to be admitted as a DPhil student, for this application was made in late November 1922, and was approved by the History Board some days before his BLitt dissertation was received. On 22 November 1922 C. H. Firth himself, on behalf of the Standing Committee of the Faculty Board, approved Roth's application for DPhil registration, judging him Veil fitted to undertake' his proposed research, on 'The Last Florentine Republic, 1527-1530'.55 Again, Edward Armstrong was nominated as his supervisor. We may reasonably conjecture that acceptance of the DPhil registration would not have been given without some off-the-record opinion, from Armstrong, that Cecil was more than capable of the work involved, and that approval of his BLitt dissertation was going to be a matter of form. This did indeed turn out to be the case, for Foligno and Ady found it to be 'of a high standard of merit'.56 Cecil was admitted to the BLitt degree on 19 June 1924. But he spent most of that calendar year in Italy, primarily in Florence, gathering materials for his doctorate, for which the university granted him three terms leave of absence. He worked his way through the Florentine Archives, the correspondence of the Venetian emissaries and the Spanish State Papers methodically and thoroughly, never overlooking detail but never losing sight of the larger themes. The thesis was submitted in the autumn of 1924. Foligno and Ady were again appointed as examiners. Their praise of the work - 'the first history of the Last Florentine Republic which is based on a study of all available sources ... he has shown much insight into the psychology of the Florentine people' - was unstinting. His judgement is 'fair minded and acute', they wrote, 'and . . . although his style is unequal, he has considerable powers of expression . . . We have no hesitation in reporting that the work done by Mr C. Roth as embodied in his dissertation and as tested by his Public Examination (and his written examination) constitutes an original contribution to knowledge set forth in such a manner as to be fit for publication in extenso'.57 Cecil graduated with his DPhil on 24 November 1924. The thesis, under the same tide, was published in book form by Methuen the following year.58 There has been much conjecture about Cecil's character and personality during his Oxford student years. His widow, Irene, dwells lightly on this period, concen? trating instead on his first visits to the city of Florence, with which, in truth, he became deeply infatuated, and on the lifelong friends he made there. Oxford in the decade immediately following the Great War was a city in transition. In 1922, 11</page><page sequence="12">Geoffrey Alderman when Cecil commenced his postgraduate studies, William Morris established in the suburb of Cowley a factory to produce motor cars.59 By 1924 Oxford was well on the way to becoming an industrial city as well as a university town. In 1914 the student population of Oxford had been about 3000; but the Great War had claimed the lives of no fewer than 2700 Oxford men.60 Robert (later Lord) Boothby, who took his BA at Magdalen College in 1921, was later to recall how few of the undergraduates who had attended the university prior to the war were to return at its close; 'our job', he wrote, 'was nothing less than to recreate the University'.61 The future 'television' historian A. J. P. Taylor came up to Oxford in the year in which Cecil obtained his doctorate. As Taylor's biographer, Adam Sisman, reminds us, this was the Oxford described by Evelyn Waugh in Decline and Fall and Brideshead Revisited, one in which there was a sharp division between 'the artistic and sometimes hedonistic aesthetes' and 'the more aggressively masculine hearties', deeply immersed in beer and rowing.62 Cecil Roth - clearly - belonged to neither group. As one of just 24 new students admitted to Merton in 1919, and as the only Orthodox Jew, he stood apart, discovering that he, who had served in the ranks, was now, perforce, among a number of 'supercilious ex-officers'.63 Cecil's undergraduate days were, from the social point of view, unhappy ones. There is no reason to doubt the story that he was 'debagged' - had his trousers removed in public.64 This is not to imply that Cecil was either a recluse or an academic snob. The records of the Merton College debating society show him to have been an active member of it in 1919 and 1920. He voted against the motion that Oxford Univer? sity was 'in urgent need of reform'; the motion was carried by 19 votes to 6. When the motion that 'the world is tending to become a better place to live in' was debated and narrowly defeated (by 19 votes to 11; 24 November 1919) Cecil sided with the majority. Merton Junior Common Room debates were clearly rowdy affairs. When the Debating Society met on 23 February 1920, Cecil was appointed one of the two 'chuckers-out'. The motion that evening, that 'the present system of English spelling is in urgent need of reform', was debated in an atmosphere of inebriation, and Cecil was called into duty to eject a speaker ('for propounding obscene conundrums'), 'together with most of the surrounding furniture'.65 How Cecil voted on that occasion was not recorded, but the picture which emerges from this evidence is that Cecil looked backwards with a certain nostalgia, and perhaps through rose-coloured spectacles. Irene Roth tells us that he was active in the affairs of Oxford's 'little synagogue'.66 Again, there is no reason to doubt that this was so. An established Jewish community existed in Oxford from the mid-19th century; a new synagogue, in Nelson Street, was formally dedicated by Chief Rabbi Hermann Adler on 29 January 1893.67 The resident Jewish com? munity of Oxford remained exceedingly small, and in truth the history of Oxford 12</page><page sequence="13">The young Cecil Roth Jewry in the period 1919-39 was virtually entirely 'an undergraduate story'.68 Cecil made a number of Jewish friends, especially Edwin Samuel, Herbert Samuel's son, who was completing his studies at Balliol when Cecil came up to Merton, and Edwin's cousin, Adrian Franklin.69 Oxford Jewry in Cecil's student days was split over Zionism and, to a much lesser extent, over the rise of Progressive Judaism. Cecil's own devout Orthodoxy was 'unmarred by any shade of bigotry'.70 We may presume that he attended synagogue services; but, as a student, he appears to have eschewed any prominent role in Jewish communal life. Cecil did not stay at Oxford after completing his doctorate. We know that Lewis Namier had been denied a Fellowship at All Souls in 1911 on account of his Jewish origins.71 Herbert Loewe's Hebrew Lectureship at Exeter was a special case. There is no record of Cecil Roth having applied for an Oxford Fellowship, or for one at Cambridge for that matter. By 1924 Cecil had already published several essays on Jewish historical themes. In 1920, at the invitation of Herbert Loewe, he had joined a small circle of scholars (including the future Chief Rabbi Israel Brodie, a Balliol man) who produced an English version of the elegies recited on the fast day of the Ninth of Av, for use at the first Anglo-Jewish educational summer school, which took place at Oxford that summer.72 On 21 March 1920 he had read his first paper before the Jewish Historical Society of England, a celebrated piece of historical detective work in which he suggested that the late-15th-century adventurer Sir Edward Brampton was actually a Portuguese Jewish convert.73 The following year Cecil published, in the Jewish Guardian, a translation of a Hebrew poem discovered in the Library of Merton College.74 However, there were then in Britain no career prospects for an historian of Jewry, or even of Anglo-Jewry. More importantly, we must grasp that in 1924, in spite of his excursions into Jewish and Anglo-Jewish history, and his membership of the Council of the Jewish Historical Society, Cecil Roth saw himself primarily as a specialist in Italian studies. Surviving letters to him from his former doctoral examiner, Foligno, suggest that this ambition - to be appointed to a chair or readership in Italian studies - persisted until the mid-1930s.75 It was only after repeated failures to obtain an academic position as an Italianist that he determined to seek a professional future within the Jewish field. NOTES 1 I should like to acknowledge the help I have received from Mrs Michelle Bentata, my research assistant, 1993-4, and the generosity of Mr Daniel Rose, of New York, who funded the research through the good offices of the New York Foundation for the Arts. 2 V. D. Lipman, Social History of the Jews in England 1850-1950 (London 1954) 169; V. D. Lipman, A History of the Jews in Britain since 1858 (Leicester 1990) 14-15. 3 A. Newman, The United Synagogue 1870 icflo (London 1977) 27-8; Lipman, Social History (see n. 2) 69-70. 4 Irene Roth, Cecil Roth: Historian Without Tears (New York 1982) 3, gives the date as 5 March, claiming that an inscription giving the 13</page><page sequence="14">Geoffrey Alderman date as 11 March, engraved on 'a silver mug presented to the infant [Cecil] by his godparents', was deliberately misleading, so as to cover up his father's failure to register the birth at the proper time; the date of 5 March is followed by Vivian Lipman in his entry for Roth in the Dictionary of National Biography: Missing Persons (Oxford 1993) 571, and is supported, conclusively, by the announcement of the birth in the columns of the Jewish Chronicle, 10 March 1899. The birth certificate giving the date as 26 March was registered, by Cecil's father, on 5 May 1899, one day within the time-limit of 42 days permitted by law. I can offer no rational explanation for this deception. Interestingly, the birth of Cecil's elder brother, Leon, on 31 March 1896, was not registered until 12 May 1896 - the very last day within the permitted limit. There is no evidence to support the assertion of Professor Gartner that the date was 7 March: L. P. Gartner, 'Cecil Roth, Historian of Anglo-Jewry', in D. Noy and I. Ben-Ami (eds) Studies in the Cultural Life of the Jews in England (Jerusalem 1975) 70. 5 Lipman, DNB (see n. 4) follows Irene Roth, Historian (see n. 4) 3-4 in describing him as a manufacturer of builders' supplies; Gartner's description of Joseph (in Studies in the Cultural Life of the Jews in England [see n. 4]), as 'a small drapery merchant' is certainly incorrect. 6 I. Roth, Historian (see n. 4) 4. 7 R. Loewe, 'Memoir', in R. Loewe (ed.) Studies in Rationalism Judaism &amp; Universalism in memory of Leon Roth (London 1966) 1-2. 8 Family tradition has it that the Roths were descendants of Joseph Karo, the 16th-century compiler of the Shulchan Aruch, a standard codification of Jewish law; Roths had certainly lived in Poland since the early-18th century: I. Roth, Historian (see n. 4) 16. Joseph Roth himself was a mohel - a circumciser: information supplied by Cecil's nephew, Joseph, May 1994. 9 Gartner, 'Cecil Roth' (see n. 4) 70. 10 On Morris Vilensky see JC, 3 January 1969, 35, and Jewish Year Book. In asserting that Vilensky was later employed by Rabbi Dr Isaac Herzog, when Chief Rabbi of the Irish Free State (1918-37), as the tutor of his sons Jacob and Chaim (the future President of the State of Israel), Irene Roth, Historian (see n. 4) 4, confuses him with his younger brother Isaac, a colourful member of the Dublin Jewish community, who also died in 1969: JC, 19 September 1969, 47. 11 On Hirsch see R. Liberles, Religious Conflict in Social Context (Westport 1985). 12 'I can read it [Yiddish] only with the utmost difficulty, and I have never ceased to regret the fact', he wrote in the South African Jewish Times, September 1949: Cecil Roth Papers, Hartley Library, University of Southampton: MS 156/ ADD/3/3. 13 G. Alderman, Modern British Jewry (Oxford, 1992) 139. 14 I. Roth, Historian (see n. 4) facing page 86. The boy wears no head-covering. But many Orthodox Jewish boys of this period went similarly bareheaded, donning a hat or skullcap only for reciting benedictions or when entering a synagogue. 15 City of London School Secretary's List of Applicants for Admission, register number 20151; City of London School Register of Pupils vol. 4 (1901-20) entry 16111; City of London School Magazine xxxv, no. 190 (March 1911) 64. 16 Alderman, Modern British Jewry (see n. 13) 90-1; I. Finestein, Post-Emancipation Jewry: the Anglo-Jewish Experience (Oxford, 1980) 15. 17 C. Bermant, The Counsinhood (London 1971) 183. 18 This paragraph is based on A. E. Douglas-Smith, The City of London School (2nd edn, Oxford 1965). 19 Ibid. 338. 20 Ibid. 361; City of London School Magazine xxxv. no. 193 (March 1912) 60. 21 Quoted in Douglas-Smith, City of London School (see n. 18) 364. 22 Ibid. 295; 378. 23 City of London School: Honours and Distinctions Gained by Pupils of the School. . . since October 1920, 3; Douglas-Smith, City of London School (see n. 18) 97-8. Salomons, a long-standing benefactor of the school, became in 1851 the first professing Jew to sit in the House of Commons, and in 1855 the first Jewish Lord Mayor of London. 24 City of London School, Annual Distribution of Prizes, Wednesday 25th July 1917 . . ., 3. The prize consisted of eight books ranging from the Concise Oxford Dictionary, the War Speeches of William Pitt and a Life of Shakespeare, to Thomas Hardy's The Dynasts. These tomes might well reflect Cecil's own literary tastes at that time. 25 I. Roth, Historian (see n. 4) 4-5. 26 City of London School Magazine xli, no. 209 (1917) 186. I. Roth, Historian (see n. 4) 6. 27 A. J. P. Taylor, English History, 1914-1945 (Oxford 1965) 84. 28 The following account is based upon E. Wyrell, The Somerset Light Infantry (Prince Albert's) 1914-1919 (Methuen London) [1927]. 14</page><page sequence="15">The young Cecil Roth 29 I. Roth, Historian (see n. 4) 6-7. The movements of the eighth battalion coincide with the account of Cecil's wartime adventures given in these pages. 30 Wyrell, Somerset Light Infantry (see n. 28) 331 31 Ibid. 333. 32 I. Roth, Historian (see n. 4) 8. 33 A phenomenon noted in Adolf Hitler, a mustard-gas victim. 34 Douglas-Smith, City of London School (see n. 18) 376-7. 35 I. Roth, Historian (see n. 4) 8. 36 Information supplied by Brigadier A. I. H. Fyffe, Regimental Secretary, 8 November 1993. 37 I. Roth, Historian (see n. 4) 9. 38 Merton College Entry Book. I am grateful to the Librarian of Merton College, Mr John Burgass, for affording access to this and other Merton College archival material. 39 Oxford University Calendar, 1918, 322; 324. 40 The Times, 1 February 1927, 17; see also Who Was Who 1916-1928. 41 Information supplied by Dr Roger Highfield, Fellow and Tutor in Modern History at Merton from 1951 to 1989, and communicated through the good offices of Dr Philip J. Waller, Senior Tutor at Merton, 8 November 1993. 42 Information supplied by Dr Highfield; on Allen see DNB 1931-1940, and H. M. Allen (ed.) Letters of P. S. Allen (Oxford 1939). 43 I. Roth, Historian (see n. 4) 10; Irene refers to the impetus this first summer in Florence provided for Cecil's article, 'The Jews of Florence', which she says appeared in the Jewish Guardian in 1921; no such article appeared at that time, but an article of the same title was published in the Jewish Forum in 1925 (vol. xviii, 182-5). 44 Bodleian Library Oxford, Oxford University Archives: UR 5/2/5; Oxford University Gazette, 12 May 1921. Cecil submitted the essay under the pseudonym 'Nihilo nihil fit'. His widow (I. Roth, Historian [see n. 4] 16) is incorrect in alleging that Cecil was the winner of the Stanhope Prize. For permission to consult the archives of Oxford University I am grateful to the Keeper of the University Archives. 45 Registrum Collegium Mertoniensis, 95. 46 I. Roth, Historian (see n. 4) 16; Oxford University Archives: Ex/5 (Examination of Jewish Candidates), document 12A. 47 I am grateful to Mr Simon Bailey, the Oxford University Archivist, for making this information available to me. On Feiling, the distinguished Christ Church historian who was noted for his caring attitude towards undergraduates, see Dictionary of National Biography and The Times, 19 September 1977. 48 University of Oxford, Examination Statutes 1922-23: Statt. Tit. VI. Sec. IV TI2. 49 Oxford University Archives, UR 2/5/2. 50 On Firth, see The Times, 20 February 1936, 16, and theDNB. 51 On Armstrong, see The Times, 16 April 1928, 21, and the DNB. On Ady, see The Times, 28 March 1958, 13; 3 April, 12. 52 Examination Statutes 1922-23: Statt. Tit. VI. Sect. V. 53 Cecil Roth Papers, Hartley Library, University of Southampton, AJ151/1/A/2/32: Firth to Roth, 15 November 1922. I am grateful to the Librarian of the University of Southampton for permission to consult these papers, and to the Keeper of the Archives, University of Oxford, for permission to quote from this letter. 54 On Foligno, see The Times, 20 November 1963, 13, and Who Was Who 1961-1970. For additional information on Foligno I am grateful to Professor C. Grayson, CBE, FBA, author of The Times obituary. 55 Oxford University Archives, FA4/11/2/3, P- I27 56 Oxford University Archives, UR2/3/5. 57 Oxford University Archives, FA4/11/2/4, p. no: Report of the Examiners for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, appointed by the Board of the Faculty of Modern History to examine C. Roth of Merton College; handwritten and undated. 58 C. Roth, The Last Florentine Republic (152J 1530) (Methuen, London 1925); an Italian edition was published by Valecchi, Florence, in 1929. 59 J. Morris (ed.) The Oxford Book of Oxford (Oxford 1978) 356. 60 Ibid. 335. 61 My Oxford (Robson Books, 1977) 20-33. 62 A. Sisman, A. J. P. Taylor (London 1994) 55-6; and see the reminiscences of J. P. M. Stewart in My Oxford (see n. 61) 80-2. 63 These are the words of Dr Highfield; see note 41 above. 64 Conversation with Professor Raphael Loewe, 15 November 1993. 65 Merton College Debating Society minute book. 66 I. Roth, Historian (see n. 4) 15. 67 D. M. Lewis, The Jews of Oxford (Oxford 1992) 42-3. 68 Ibid. 57. 69 I. Roth, Historian (see n. 4) 9. 15</page><page sequence="16">Geoffrey Alderman 70 G. Lewis, 'The Cecil Roth Era', in F. S. Jackson (ed.) Then and Now (Oxford 1992) 66. 71 J. Namier, Lewis Namier (Oxford 1971) 101. 72 R. Loewe, tribute to Roth in Trans JHSE XXIII (i97i) 103. 73 C. Roth, 'Perkin Warbeck and his Jewish Master', Trans JfHSE IX (1921) 143-62. 74 Jewish Guardian, 11 March 1921. 75 Cecil Roth Papers, Southampton University, AJ151/1/A/2: Foligno to Roth, 30 January 1933 and 19 March 1936. i6</page></plain_text>

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