Poems & Short Stories: 4,271
Forum Members: 70,634
Forum Posts: 1,033,546
And over 2 million unique readers monthly!
It takes a great deal of boldness, mixed with a vast deal of caution, to acquire a great fortune; but then it takes ten times as much wit to keep it after you have got it as it took to make it.
--Mayer A. Rothschild
That the Jews are a joyous people and find much sweet solace in their sorrowful religion is proven by one fact too obvious to be overlooked--they reproduce.
Children are born of love and joy. The sorrows of Jewry are more apparent than real. After every Black Fast, when the congregations used to sit shoeless on the stone floors of the synagogues, weeping and wailing on account of the destruction of Jerusalem, the youngsters, and the grown-ups as well, were counting the hours before the Feast of Pentecost would begin.
The sorrow over the loss of things destroyed a thousand years or so ago is reduced by the lapse of years to rather a pleasant emotional exercise.
Fasts were followed by feasts, also pro and con, as Mrs. Malaprop would say; so that in the home of an orthodox Jewish family there was always something doing. Fasts, feasts, flowers, sweetmeats, lights, candles, little journeys, visits, calls, dances, prayers, responses, wails, cries of exultation, shouts of triumph--"Rejoicing of the Law"--these prevented monotony, stagnation and introspection.
And these are the things which have pressed their influences upon the Jew until the fume and reek of the Ghetto, the bubble and squeak of the rabble, and the babble of bazaars are more acceptable to him than the breeze blowing across silent mesa and prairie, or the low, moaning lullaby of lonely pine-forests.
The Jew is no hermit--if anything is going on, he is literally and poetically in it.
The sense of separation is hell. If continued it becomes insanity. The sense of separation is a thing that seldom presses upon the Jew, and this is why insanity passes him by and seeks a Christian as a victim. The Jew has an animating purpose that is a saving salt, even if this purpose is not always an ideal one. His family, friends, clan, tribe, are close about him.
Zangwill, himself a child of the Ghetto, comes to the rescue of the despised and misunderstood Christian, and expresses a doubt as to whether the Ghetto was not devised by Jews in order to keep Christians at a safe and discreet distance.
For certain it is that the wall which shut the Jews in, shut the Christians out. The contempt of the Christian for the Jew is fully reciprocated. One-sided hate does not endure any more than does a one-sided love.
The first Ghetto was at Venice. It came into being during the Italian Renaissance, say about Fourteen Hundred Fifty. The Jews had settled in one corner of the city, as they always have done, and are still prone to do. They had their own shops, stores, bazaars, booths, schools and synagogues. There they were packed, busied with their own affairs, jostling, quibbling, arguing, praying, taking no interest in the social life outside. Jehovah led them out of captivity in order that He might make them slaves to Himself. He surely was a jealous God!
Of course, they traded with Christians, bought, sold, ran, walked with them, but did not dine with Christians nor pray with them. There were Jewish architects, painters, printers, lawyers, doctors, bankers, and many of the richest and most practical men in Venice were Jews.
They made money out of the Christians, and no doubt helped the Christians to make money, for, as I have said, things not founded on reciprocity do not last long.
One fact that looks like corroborating proof of Zangwill's pleasantry is that upon one of the Ghetto gates was a marble slab, warning all Jews that if any of them turned Christian he would never be allowed again to live in the Ghetto, nor would he be saluted or spoken to if he returned, nor so much as be given a cup of water, but that the cord, scourge, gallows, prison and pillory should be his portion.
It was a curse almost like that cheerful one visited upon Spinoza, the lens-maker, when he forsook the synagogue and took up his home with the Mennonites.
Children born and brought up in the Ghetto always felt a certain pity for those who were obliged to live beyond the gates, in the great, selfish, grasping, wicked world. Those inside the Ghetto were the Chosen People of God; those outside were the Children of the Devil.
No matter who built the wall, it is a fact that the Government of Venice, which was Christian and under the immediate jurisdiction of the Church, kept guards at the gates and allowed no Jew to leave after a certain early hour of the evening, nor on Sundays or holidays, or when the Emperor visited the city. The only exception to this was on Holy Cross Day, which occurred once a year. On this day all adult Jews were ordered out and marched by the soldiers to some Christian Church, where they were compelled to listen to the service and repeat the Apostles' Creed. Robert Browning says that they were rounded up all right, but when it came to saying the Creed they twiddled their thumbs and said Ben Ezra's Prayer. It is also quite probable that they crossed their fingers, for the Jews are a stubborn sort, given to contumacy and contravention.
On all other days, any Jew who went out into the city had to wear a big yellow O on his breast, and a yellow hat on his head. The Jewish women wore the O and also a veil across which were yellow stripes.
These chromatic signs were changed a few times in the course of the three hundred years that the Ghetto existed, and so were the hours in which the Jews were allowed to come and go, but five o'clock in the evening and seven in the morning were the regular closing and opening times. The watchmen at the gates and the guards who rowed round and round in their barcas were paid out of a special tax collected from the Jews. It was argued that it was all a sort of beneficent police protection, devised by kindly persons who loved their enemies, and did good to those who despitefully used them.
The man who can not make a good argument for the Ghetto lacks imagination.
Gibbon, who was a deist or monotheist and really liked the Jews, intimates that it was lucky for the Christians that Constantine didn't embrace Judaism instead of Christianity, for, if he had, the Jews would have treated the Christians exactly as the Christians have since treated the Jews. Of course, nobody claims that Christianity is the religion of Christ--it is the religious rule of pagan Rome, with the Jewish Christ as a convenient label. Just why Christians should worship a Jew, and pray to a Jewess, and yet despise Jews, is a matter so subtle that it has never been explained. Gibbon in this connection says at least one irrefutable thing, and that is, that the Jewish people are men and women. Christians are men and women, also. All are human beings, and it is quite likely that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but time and chance happeneth to them all.
I am not sure that Gibbon is right when he says that the Christians were lucky in that Constantine did not turn Jew. To be persecuted is not wholly a calamity, but to persecute is to do that for which Nature affords no compensation. The persecutor dies, but the persecuted lives on forever.
The struggle for existence which the Jew has had to make is the thing that has differentiated him and made him strong. Those first Christians--Primitive Christians--who lived from the time of Paul to that of Constantine, were a simple, direct, sincere and honest people--opinionated no doubt, and obstinately dogmatic, but with virtues that can never be omitted nor waived. They were economical, industrious and filled with the spirit of brotherhood, and they possessed a fine pride concerning their humility, as most ascetics do. Humility is a form of energy. It is simply going after the thing by another route, and deceiving yourself as to the motive.
The Primitive Christians had every characteristic that distinguished the Jew of the Middle Ages--those characteristics which invite persecution and wax strong under it.
Poverty and persecution seem necessary factors in fixing upon a people a distinctive and peculiar religion. Persecution and poverty have no power to stamp out a religion--all they do is to stain it deeper into the hearts of its votaries. Centuries of starvation and repression deepened the religious impulses of the Irish, and it has ever been the same with the Jews.
If the Jew is criticized in America, it is on account of that buttinski bumptiousness upon which he has no monopoly, but which goes with the newly-made rich of any nationality who have little to recommend them beyond the walletoski.
There are no poor Jews natives of America, and it is worth while noting that our richest citizens are not Jews, either. American-born Jews have enough. The poverty-stricken Jews in this country come from Russia, Bulgaria and Roumania; and their children will have money to loan, if not to incinerate, because they possess the virtues that beckon all good things in their direction.
America is the true Judaic Zion. Here there are nearly two million Jews, and their religion is fast taking the form of a healthful Roycroftism.
The downfall of primitive Christianity dates from the day Constantine embraced it, and thereby made it popular. Prosperity is a form of disintegration--a ripening of the fruit. Things succeed only that they may wither. The business of every great religion is to die, and thus fertilize others. The Jew has survived every foe save success. Civilization is now adopting him, and Liberal Judaism is fast becoming a Universal Religion, taught in fact, if not in name, by priests, preachers and muftis of all denominations. The end of the Jew is near--he has ceased to be peculiar.
* * * * * * *
Wolfgang Goethe was born in the city of Frankfort in Seventeen Hundred Forty-nine. Goethe gives us a very vivid description of Frankfort as he remembered it in his childhood days. He describes it as a town within a town, a fortress within a fortress. Then he tells us of a walled enclosure in this walled city, which was to him a very terrible place--it was the Ghetto, or Jews' Quarter. Through it ran the Judengasse, or street of the Jews. It was a place packed with human beings--houses, hallways, alleys, sidewalks and porches swarming with children. Goethe tells how he at times would peep through the iron gates of the Ghetto, but as a child he never ventured in. The children told one another how human sacrifices were offered in the synagogues, and as proof, pictures of Abraham and Isaac were brought forth--that proved the point. There were plenty of men in the Ghetto who looked exactly like Abraham--goodness gracious! In this Ghetto at Frankfort was born, in Seventeen Hundred Forty-three, Mayer Anselm, afterward Mayer Anselm Rothschild. When Goethe took his peep into the Ghetto, this lad was about twelve years old--Goethe was six. Forty years later these men were to meet, and meet as equals. The father of Mayer Anselm was Anselm Moses. He could not boast a surname, for Jews, not being legal citizens, simply aliens, had no use for family-names. If they occasionally took them on, the reigning duke might deprive them of the luxury at any time, without anesthetics.
If a man had two names, say, "Anselm Moses," it meant that his name was Anselm and that he was the son of Moses. Mayer Anselm was the son of Anselm. Rothschild means "Red Shield," and this was the distinguishing sign on the house. All the people in that house were "Red Shields." The house was seven stories high, and at one time a hundred people lived in it.
Later, when the name became popular, all of the people in that house called themselves "Rothschilds." In Goethe's time, there were just one hundred sixty houses in the Frankfort Ghetto, and these were occupied by two thousand three hundred Jews.
Goethe says that the practise of walling the Jews in was to facilitate taxation--the Jews being honored by an assessment quite double that which Christians paid. At one time any Jew who paid two hundred fifty florins was exempt from wearing a yellow hat and the yellow O on his breast.
Many private houses, everywhere, have walls around them, and the plan of dividing different nationalities from each other, by setting apart a certain section of the town for each, was a matter of natural selection, everywhere practised. Mayer Anselm grew up with never a thought that he belonged to a "peculiar people," nor did the idea of persecution ever trouble him. The only peculiar people are those who do not act and think as we do. Who are peculiar? Oh, the others, the others, the others.
There was a big family for Anselm Moses to look after. All were hearty and healthy. The Mosaic Law says nothing about ventilation, but outside of this little lapse it is based on a very commonsense plan of hygiene.
One thing which adds greatly to the physical endowment of Jewish children, and almost makes up to the child of the Ghetto for the lack of woods and fields, is that he is not launched on the sea of life with a limited supply of love. Jewish children do not refer to their father as "the Gov'ner," and elderly women as "Salem Witches," because the Jews as a people recognize the rights of the child.
And the first right of a child is the right to be loved.
In the average Christian household, until a very few years ago, the child grew up with the feeling constantly pressed upon him that he was a usurper and an interloper. Such questions as, "Where would you get anything to eat if I did not provide it?" were everywhere flying at the heads of lisping babyhood. The words "must" and "shall" were often heard, and that obedience was a privilege and not a duty was nowhere taught. All parents quoted Solomon as to the beauties of the rod; and that all children were perverse, obstinate and stiff-necked was assumed to be a fact. To break the will of a child was a very essential thing to do.
The lack of the spirit of brotherhood that the Jew has encountered from the outside world has found a balance in an increased expression of love within his family. That most atrocious English plan of taking the child from his parents at a tender age and placing him in a boarding-school managed by holluschickies has never been adopted by the Jews.
Fear, repression and shock to vibrating nerves through threats, injunctions and beatings have fixed in the Christian races a whole round of "children's diseases," which in our ignorance we attribute to "the will of God."
Let this fact be stated, that old folks who are sent over the hill to the poorhouse have invited their fate. And conversely, elderly people who are treated with courtesy, consideration, kindness and respect are those who, in manhood's morning, have sown the seeds of love and kindness. Water rises to the height of its source; results follow causes; chickens come home to roost; action and reaction are equal; forces set in motion continue indefinitely in one direction. The laws of love are as exact as the laws of the tides that moan and cry and beat upon the shores, the round world over. A family of ten children born and reared in a noisome Ghetto, and all strong and healthy? Impossible, you say, yet such is the fact, and not a rare exception either. Happiness is the great prophylactic, and nothing is so sanitary as love, even though it be flavored with garlic.
* * * * * * *
The father of Mayer Anselm was a traveling merchant--call him a pedler, a Jewish pedler, and have done with it. He made trips outside of the Ghetto, and used to come back with interesting tales of adventure that he would relate to the household and neighbors who would drop in.
Not many Jews ventured outside of the Ghetto--to do so was to invite insult, robbery and violence. However, to get out is to grow. This man traded safety for experience and so got out and grew. He evidently knew how to take care of himself. He was courageous, courteous, intelligent, diplomatic. He made money. And always he wore the yellow hat and the yellow patch upon his breast.
In the "Red Shield" there was usually at least one Rabbi. One of the sons of Anselm Moses must be a Rabbi. The parents of little Mayer Anselm set him apart for the synagogue--he was so clever at reciting prayers and so glib with responses. Then he had an eczema for management, and took charge of all the games when the children played Hebrew I-Spy through the hallways and dark corners of the big, rambling and mysterious "Red Shield."
Little Mayer must have been nine years old when his father first took him along on one of his trips. It was a wonderful event--they were gone three days, and when they returned the boy entertained the whole Judengasse with tales, slightly hand-illumined, about the wonderful things they had seen.
One thing he learned, and that was that Christians were not the drunken, fighting, treacherous and bloodthirsty people he had supposed--at least, they were not all bad. Not once were they insulted or molested.
They had called at the great house or castle of the Landgrave to sell handkerchiefs, combs and beads to the servants, and accidentally they had met the Landlord, himself. He it was who owned the "Red Shield." The agent of the Landgrave came every month to collect the rent from everybody. That word "Landgrave" simply meant "Landlord," a term still used even in America, where there are, of course, no Lords, only "ramrods."
The Landgrave had invited Anselm Moses into his library to see his wonderful collection of coins, and Mayer Anselm, of course, slipped in, too. To describe the wonders of that house would take a book as big as the Torah--I think so!
The Landgrave had a son, aged eleven, going on twelve, and his name was William. He wasn't so big as Mayer, and Mayer wouldn't be so old as William for a year, and even then he wouldn't.
Children know nothing of social caste. Caste is a disease of grown-ups. It is caused by uric acid in the ego. Children meet as equals--they respond naturally without so much as a thought as to whether they ought to love one another or not.
William got acquainted with Mayer by holding up a big speckled marble, and then in a burst of good-fellowship giving the marble to the little stranger boy, all before a word had been said. Then while the Landgrave was showing his treasures to Anselm who himself was a collector in a small way, the boys slipped out of the door, and William took Mayer to see the stables. "What's it for?" asked William, pointing to the yellow patch sewed tight to the breast of Mayer's jacket. "That?" answered Mayer proudly, "why, that means that I am a Jew, and I live in the Ghetto!" William gave a little start of alarm. He looked at the other lad, so brown and sturdy and frankly open-eyed, and said slowly, "You can't be a Jew, because--because Jews eat children!"
"I'm a Jew--my father is a Jew--all our folks are Jews--the Jews are the Chosen People of God!" Little Mayer spoke slowly and with feeling.
"The Chosen People of God?" echoed William.
They saw the horses, and Mayer looked at them with wondering eyes. There were no horses in the Ghetto--just pushcarts and wheelbarrows. William had been lame--hip disease, or something, and so had never been away down to the city, except with a nurse, or in a carriage with his tutor. The boys entered the house and the Landgrave was still explaining to Anselm Moses how all coins made by the Assyrians were modeled by hand, not stamped out with a die, as was done by the Greeks.
The boys hadn't been missed. "Can't I have one of those to wear on my coat, too?" asked William, pulling at his father's sleeve, and pointing to the yellow patch on Mayer's jacket.
"One of what, my son?" asked the Landgrave seriously.
"One of those yellow medals!"
The Landgrave looked at Mayer's yellow patch, and then involuntarily at the badge worn by the boy's father.
The Landgrave's fine face flushed scarlet. His gaze met the steady, manly look of Anselm Moses.
They understood each other. No one was near, save the two boys. They met as equals, as men meet on the plain or desert. "It's all a mistake--a foolish mistake, Anselm, and some day we will outgrow it. A man's a man!"
He held out his hand. The Jew grasped it firmly and both men smiled--the smile of friendship and understanding.
As the Jew and his son started to go, the Landgrave gave little Mayer a big copper penny, and asked him to come back some day and play with William.
And Anselm Moses, the Jew, took up his pack that he had left at the servants' quarters, and holding the hand of little Mayer Anselm, they walked out of the castle yard, down among the winding trees to the road.
* * * * * * *
Mayer Anselm took to his father's business as a bird takes to the air. From selling trinkets he began dealing in jewelry, old coins, curiosities and paintings. He picked his customers, and knew the weaknesses of each--certain things were bought for certain people.
The idea of becoming a Rabbi was abandoned--he wanted temporal power, not spiritual. Money to the intelligent Jew is the symbol of power--of independence. There may be men who love the money itself, but surely this man didn't. He was daring in its use--he had the courage to take risks. His was a quest for power.
When about twenty, he traveled as far as Hanover to visit a kinsman, and there he served for several months in a bank. He had a mind like those Japanese who travel to absorb, and waste no time in battling error.
Returning to Frankfort he transformed his father's little store into a bank and filled the window with real money, to the great delight and astonishment of the neighbors. From Hanover he brought a collection of rare coins. The business his father had established gradually took on a cosmopolitan look. The house of the Red Shield became a sort of center of trade for the whole Judengasse.
And all the time the friendship with the Landgrave and his son had continued. Commissions were given to Mayer to buy certain coins and pictures. Finally he was entrusted to collect the rents of the Red Shield. He did this so thoroughly and well, and was so prompt in his reports, that he was finally named as custodian of the property. Other property was given to him to look after.
Jews came to him for advice, and Christians counseled with him as to loans.
He became known as the "Honest Jew," which title, we hope, carried with it no reflection on his co-religionists. There are men--a very, very few--who are thus honored with the title of "Honest John." Gamblers can be recalled whose word was worth more than their bond. There are horsemen--gamblers, too, if you please--who have little respect for the moral code, but who never prove false to a trust.
Mayer Anselm had the coolness and the courage of a good gambler--in business he surely was ever ready to back his opinion. He would pay five hundred thalers for a jewel, give the man his price and pocket the gem silently, while the hagglers and quibblers were screwing up their courage to offer a hundred for it. But here was the difference--Mayer Anselm knew what he was going to do with the jewel. He had a customer in mind. He knew the customer, he knew the jewel, and he knew his own mind.
The Landgrave grew to lean on Mayer Anselm of the Red Shield. He made him "Court Jew," or official treasurer of the principality. This carried with it "the freedom of the city," and being a free man--no longer technically a Jew--he had a name, and the name he chose was "Rothschild," or the Red Shield, Mayer Anselm Rothschild.
He no longer wore the yellow badge of a despised race. Yet he refused to leave the Ghetto. The House of the Red Shield was his birthplace--here his parents had lived and died, here would he live and die. He was still a Jew, earnest and zealous in keeping the Law, the "President" or head of the synagogue.
He was happily married to Letizia--she had no other name--and babies were coming along with astonishing regularity.
To him and his good wife were born five sons and five daughters. The Red Shield was now his own property, he having purchased the freehold--a thing he could not do until he had attained "the freedom of the city."
Then we get the rather curious condition of Mayer Anselm supervising the municipal affairs of the whole city; and his sons, grown to manhood, still wearing the yellow badge and obliged to keep within the Ghetto at certain hours, on serious penalty.
And it is worth while noting that Mayer Anselm kept the laws of the Ghetto, and asked no favor for himself beyond that granted to other Jews, save that he did not wear the badge. Beyond this he was a Jew, and his pride refused to allow him to be anything else. And yet he served the Christian public with a purity of purpose and an unselfishness that won for him the reputation of honesty that was his all his life.
By his influence the Ghetto was enlarged, several of the streets widened, and all houses were placed under sanitary inspection. He established a compulsory free-school system and maintained an art-gallery in the Ghetto that was a center of education for the entire district.
When this gallery was dedicated, Goethe came, and made a speech of congratulation. He was the guest of the Red Shield. Afterward, Rothschild returned the visit and spent several days at Weimar with the great poet, and always they were on very friendly terms.
* * * * * * *
The son of the Landgrave became, himself, the Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel, and afterward Elector. He is also known as William the Ninth. He was a booklover, a numismatist, and a man of many gentle virtues. I know of only one blot on his official 'scutcheon, but this was so serious that, for a time, it blocked his political fortune. In this affair, Rothschild was co-respondent. Rothschild was Court Jew, and beyond a doubt attended to all details.
During the American Revolutionary War, William the Ninth loaned twelve thousand soldiers, a goodly portion of his army, to one George the Third of England, to go and fight the American Colonies. This is the first and only time that Germans have ever carried arms against Americans. These Hessians were splendid, sturdy soldiers and would have been almost invincible if fighting to protect their homes, but in America they were only half-hearted.
The bones of many of these poor fellows were scattered through New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and most of those who survived until Cornwallis offered his sword to Washington--and had it refused--settled down and became good Pennsylvania Dutch.
Around Reading and Lancaster are various worthy Daughters of the Revolution, whose credential is that their grandsires fought with Washington. The fact that the grandsires aforesaid were from Hesse, sold at so much a head by a Governor in need of ready cash, need not weigh in the scale. A woman's a woman for a' that.
The amount of money which the Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel received from the English Government for the use of his twelve thousand men was six hundred thousand thalers; and while a thaler is equivalent to only about seventy-five cents, it was then worth as much as an American dollar is worth now.
These six hundred thousand thalers were a straight bonus, for the English Government agreed to pay the Hessian soldiers the same as they paid their own English soldiers, and to treat them in all other ways as their own.
A second division of four thousand men was afterward supplied, for which the Landgrave of Hesse was paid two hundred thousand thalers.
Alluring tales of loot were held out to the soldiers, also educational advantages, somewhat after the style of the recruiting-posters in this Year of Grace, Nineteen Hundred Thirteen, that seek to lead and lure the lusty youth of America to enlist in the cause of Mars.
Of course the common people knew nothing of the details of this deal of Hesse with England. The Americans were represented to them as savages who had arisen against their masters, and were massacring men, women and children.
To stop this bloodshed was looked upon as a duty for the sake of humanity. Let it be stated that these Hessian soldiers were not sent to America against their will. They voted by regiments to go to the defense of their English Cousins. All of the officers were given a month's pay as a bonus, and this no doubt helped their zeal. The soldiers were to go simply until the war was over, which, it was represented, would be in one year, or possibly less.
The money came so easily that the Landgrave of Hesse, in Seventeen Hundred Ninety-four, supplied the English with a third detachment of four thousand troops--this time, to fight the French.
It is not always the case that the terms of sale of human beings in war-time are so well known as are these particular deals. The Hessian officials kept no books. They made no records, and wrote no letters. Boards of Investigation were powerless. The business was transacted by personal messengers, who went to London and closed the deal by word of mouth, and later brought back the coin. Wise men write few letters. What would you? Is Farley a rogue and a varlet? However, things in Threadneedle Street can not be done in secret.
England has a wonderful system of bookkeeping and bureaucraft--there are spies upon spies, and checks and counterchecks, so that filching a large sum from the Bank of England has been a trick never so far successfully turned.
England's share in this transaction was not dishonorable--that is to say, to buy a man is not so bad as to sell one. All she did was to hire strike-breakers. English statesmen generally regarded the matter as a bit of necessary war-time expediency. If the rebel Colonies could be put down by hiring a few extra soldiers, why, hire them, of course.
Not so, said Edmund Burke, who gave the matter an unlooked-for publicity by denouncing the Hessians as "hired assassins." He prophesied that the Americans would not consider these hirelings as amenable to the rules of civilized warfare, but would "welcome them with bloody hands to hospitable graves"--a phrase so fine that it was, years after, seized upon by Tom Corwin and applied to the conquest of Mexico.
Charles Fox took a like view of the situation, and between him and Burke the word "Hessian" reached America with a taint upon it which a century of use has not been able to disinfect.
The protest in the House of Commons did not directly avail, but there is a suspicion that a wise protest against a great wrong never dies on the empty air. Burke's accusation of barter and sale rumbled throughout Europe, and created a sentiment of sympathy for America, especially in France. Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine and Silas Deane made capital of it, and repeated the words "hired assassins" and thereby helped us to borrow money to fight said assassins. So much for the Law of Compensation.
As for the Landgrave, there was a cool million in bullion in his strongbox. He smiled, shrugged his shoulders, and calmly explained that George Washington, the Rebel, had united with the Indian Savages and was murdering all loyal English subjects in America, and for a few good Germans to go to the rescue of England and help put down the insurrection was a Christian act, and moreover, "it was nobody's business but their own." He thought that this disposed of the matter, but the ghost would not down.
In Eighteen Hundred Eight, an Imperial Decree was issued by the Emperor to this effect: "Whereas, it seems that the House of Hesse-Cassel has for some years persisted in selling its subjects to the English Crown, to bear arms in quarrels that are none of ours, and that by this means has amassed a large fortune, therefore this detestable avarice has now brought its own punishment, and the Landgraviate of Hesse-Cassel from now on ceases to exist, being incorporated with the Kingdom of Westphalia."
* * * * * * *
Troubles, we are told, never come singly. Of this William the Elector was convinced. The Emperor had cut off his official head with a stroke of the pen. The money he possessed was to be taken by legal attachment, its lawful ownership to be determined in the courts.
The lawsuit would have been a long and tedious one, but happily it was not to be. Napoleon with his conquering army was sweeping Europe. The Corsican was approaching Frankfort. The rumor was that the city was to be wiped out of existence. Napoleon hated the Hessians--he knew all about their having hired themselves out to fight the Americans. Aye! and the French! The Hessians must be punished. Justice! The late Elector of Hesse-Cassel was now only a private citizen, but his record was his offense. Word had been brought to him that Napoleon had said he would hang him--when he caught him. It is not at all likely that this would have happened--Napoleon must have secretly admired the business stroke that could extract so large a sum from England's exchequer. It was on this same excursion that Napoleon placed a guard in Goethe's house to protect the poet from possible harm. "If I were not Napoleon, I would be Wolfgang Goethe," bluntly said the little man without removing his cocked hat, when he met the King of Letters, thus paraphrasing his prototype, Alexander. Goethe gave him a copy of his last book. "It lacks one thing--your autograph!" said the man who was busy conquering a world.
Goethe, being an author, had waited, expecting this, and so was not disappointed. Frankfort was looted, but not burned. Money, jewelry and portable wealth were all the French wanted. The Castle was used as a stable, and the paintings and statuary served as targets for the rollicking soldiers who had exploited the wine-cellars. The vast amount of specie which it was reported the Elector possessed, was missing--the strongboxes were empty. Soldiers were set to work digging all about the house for signs of hidden treasure, but none was found. The Elector and his family were distributed, as they say of the type in limited editions. Gone--no one knew where!
The French visited the Ghetto, but by order of Napoleon, his soldiers were never severe upon the Jews. The Jews had little or nothing to do with politics, and Napoleon, with his usual nonchalance, said, "They have suffered enough!" Napoleon called himself "The Protector of the Oppressed," and tried occasionally to live up to his self-conferred title.
The Red Shield received a call, and Mayer Rothschild handed over his keys to the officer, in person. The house was searched, and cash to the extent of ten thousand thalers appropriated. The officer gave Rothschild a receipt for the amount, and assured the banker it was but a loan. He thanked Rothschild for his courtesy. They drank a bottle of wine together, and the Frenchman, with profuse apologies, excused himself, having pressing duties to perform, and withdrew, first cordially shaking hands. The French were convinced that when William the Elector fled, he had taken with him his money. That he should have entrusted it to another, and especially a Jew, seemed preposterous. Yet such was the case. William had fled, disguised as a civil engineer, carrying with him in his chaise an outfit of surveying-instruments. All of his money had been turned over to Mayer Anselm Rothschild. The many biographers place the sum anywhere from one to fifty million dollars. The fact seems to be that it was a little less than two million. Not even a receipt was given for the money, for such a document might have led to locating the gold. The Elector would not even count it. He said: "If I do not come back, it is yours--you helped me get it. If I return, you are an honest man--and that is all there is about it." The Jew was touched to tears. The obligation was one fraught with great risk for the money, and for himself. But there was only one thing to do--assume the responsibility.
That this vast sum of money was given into the hands of Rothschild, no one has ever denied. But as to how he secreted it from the French has been explained by the very childlike tale that he buried it in the garden back of his house. In the first place, there were no gardens in the Ghetto, and in the second place, money buried in a garden yields no return, and can not to advantage be left there forever.
At this time England was just becoming a Mecca for Jews, for no matter how much the Corsican had to say about his regard for the Jews, they had no regard for him. He stood for war and violence, and his soldiers, as a rule, knew not their master's leniency for the Jew. Banks, vaults, and the shops of jewelers stood small chance in the face of an advancing army, drunk on success.
Many Jews, rich and poor, were fleeing to England. Rothschild had special boats under his direction upon which he sold passages to his brethren. Even before the treasure of the Elector was placed in his hands he had inwardly planned for its transportation. England was then the safest country in Europe. England, alone, was the one country that had not been seriously threatened by revolution. And it was the one country that was reasonably safe from the grasp of the French.
Rothschild's faith in England was proven when he sent all of his own spare cash to London. That he would transport there the treasure of William the Elector was the one purpose in his mind. And how to carry it! You may send treasure by armed guards, in which case you invite attack by advertising what you are doing. Or you can divide your money up among poor travelers, and by sending your people at different times, thus lessen the risk. Rothschild had been entrusting the safe transportation of money to London in the care of Jews--poor Jews. And now he picked his immigrants and took them into his confidence.
He was an honest man--the title of the "Honest Jew" was his by divine right. To serve him was looked upon as a precious privilege. And now almost every mother of a big family, bound for England and freedom, carried around her ample waist a belt of gold. As soon as she and her brood reached London, it was to be given to Nathan Rothschild, the son of Mayer Rothschild, who was now established as a banker in London.
Rothschild trusted the poor and lowly, and in so doing his faith, so far as we know, was never misplaced. It is not at all likely that the Jews knew whose money it was they were carrying, nor did they know that several hundred other Jews were being trusted in a similar way. All they knew was that Mayer Anselm had come to them and asked them as a great favor, as a friend, to carry this belt and give it to his dear son Nathan, in England. Of course Rothschild's confidence was not misplaced. A few years later this was the Rothschild method of transporting treasure all over Europe--to dispatch, say, a hundred poor Jews at different times, and mixed up among them was the treasure. Honest men can safely trust others--honest men, as a rule, are safe even with rogues. There is a spiritual law which governs here--ask Ben Lindsey!
And so the treasure which had originally come from England found its way back to Britain. It was deposited among various banks and bankers, to the personal credit of the House of Rothschild, drawing interest at five per cent.
In the meantime Mayer Anselm remained at Frankfort, living in the Red Shield, occupying the little shop which had been occupied by his father. He smoked his big pipe, smiled, went to prayers--and waited. When the French soldiers had gutted his safe, he sighed, shrugged his shoulders, and said: "It is the Lord's will--those whom He loveth He chasteneth. Blessed be the name of the Lord." He waited.
* * * * * * *
Rothschild brought his children up to economize time and money, and to be useful. In childhood, all had served as clerks and helpers in the little bank--the girls included. They were bankers by prenatal tendency and by education. So strong was the banking instinct in the family that three of the girls married men who afterward became bankers, probably being led into the financial way they should walk through marital influences. And so they were duly absorbed into the great House of Rothschild. In order to facilitate the business of the Landgrave, who had considerable property in Hanover, Rothschild sent his third son, Nathan, there and established a bank. This boy Nathan was the financial genius of the family. He was the only one of the five boys who surpassed their father in initiative. And this is saying much, because the other four were all strong and able men. Anselm, the oldest boy, took his father's work and became head of the Frankfort house. Solomon managed the branch at Vienna; Nathan founded the branch in Hanover, and turned it over to one of his brothers-in-law and went to London; Carl did good work in Paris, and James was at Naples and Rome. In addition to these six principal banks, the House of Rothschild had agencies in more than forty different European cities.
William the Elector had turned his money over to Rothschild in the year Eighteen Hundred Six. He had remained in hiding for four years. The French had placed a price upon his head on account of his having sold his troops to the English to fight the French. He had not communicated with Rothschild for fear of involving him.
And now behold! Like lightning put of a clear sky, came a pardon from Napoleon, "for all alleged offenses," and a reinstatement of the House of Hesse-Cassel to its former proud position. This whole procedure was essentially Napoleonic. The Corsican killed or kissed, as the mood took him. Napoleon hated the Emperor Frederick the Second, who had done the deposing, and as a sort of insult or rebuke to that particular royal party, he sought out the man's enemies and exalted them.
William came out of hiding, back to Frankfort, and was received by the people with open arms. He sought out Rothschild at his office in the Judengasse of the Ghetto. The banker received him with courtesy, but without emotion.
"My money--my treasure, Mayer Anselm,--the French stole it from you, I know," said William. "Spare me the details, I only come to you now for a loan--you will not refuse me--we were boys together, Mayer Anselm, boys together. I loved you. Fate has smitten me sore, but now I have my name back and my broken estate--I must begin all over. The loan--you will not refuse me?" The banker coughed gently, smiled, and answered: "I regret I have no money to loan now, but the funds you deposited with me are safe. The best I can do is to give you Exchange on London, with such little ready money as you now require. I have been expecting you, so here is the schedule. The principal, with interest at five per cent, makes me your debtor for a little over two million thalers. My son Nathan, in London, has the money subject to your check."
William stared, started, clutched the bars across the little window for support, and burst into tears. He was taken to the residence part of the house, and Letizia served him with tea and things Kosher. William became calm, and then declared: "The principal, Mayer, I shall never touch. I should not know what to do with it, anyway. Pay me two per cent interest on it, and it is all I shall ever ask." And it was all done as William desired. To his credit let it be said that he spent the money wisely and well: he did much for the development of the economic and intellectual improvement of the country.
* * * * * * *
Mayer Anselm died in Eighteen Hundred Twelve, aged sixty-nine. But long before he passed out, he had fixed in the minds of his children the wisdom of being loyal to the family interests. "One banking-house may fail, but five standing true to each other, in different countries, never can," he said.
Nathan had gravitated by divine right to the head of the concern. In times of doubt all the others looked to him.
To Nathan Rothschild must be given the credit for a financial stroke that lifted the Rothschilds absolutely out and away from competition.
It was in the spring of Eighteen Hundred Fifteen.
Napoleon had been banished to Elba, and now returned like a conquering hero. His magnetic name was rolling opposition before him as the sun dissipates the clouds. Europe was in a tumult of terror!
Would Napoleon do again what he had done before--trample the cities beneath his inconsiderate feet and parcel out the people and the land among his favorites?
England was shaken to her center. "This time Britain shall not go unpunished," declared the Corsican.
Business was paralyzed. The banks were not loaning a dollar; many had closed and refused to honor the checks of depositors. People with money were hoarding it. England was trying to raise funds to strengthen her defenses, and fit out her soldiery in better fighting shape, but the money was not forthcoming. Government bonds had dropped to sixty-five, and a new loan at seven per cent had met with only a few straggling applications. This was the condition on the First of June, Eighteen Hundred Fifteen. The Armies of the Allies were gathering gear for a final struggle, but there were those who declared that if Napoleon should walk out before certain divisions of this Army, wearing his uniform of the Little Corporal, bearing no weapons, and address the soldiers as brothers, they would throw down their guns and cry, "Command us!"
Nathan Rothschild there in London made his plans. With him to think was to act. There was no time to consult his brothers or his mother, as he usually did on affairs of great moment. He called his cashier and gave him quick and final orders: "I am going across to the Continent. I shall see the downfall of Napoleon--or his triumph. If Napoleon goes down, I shall send a letter to myself--a blank sheet of paper in an envelope. When you get this, buy English bonds--buy quickly, but use a dozen different men, so as not to stampede the market. We have a million pounds in British gold--use it all, and buy, if necessary, up to five points of par." He rode away on horseback. He left a man with a strong and fast horse every forty miles from London to Dover, then from Calais to Brussels. A swift-sailing yacht waited at Calais, with a reward of one hundred guineas for the captain if he crossed the Channel inside of four hours, after getting a special letter addressed to Nathan Rothschild. There was a rich reward also for each rider if he rode his forty miles in less than four hours. Rothschild watched away the night of the Seventeenth of June, circling uneasily the outposts of Brussels.
He saw the Battle of Waterloo--or such of that mad confusion as was visible. He saw the French ride headlong into that open ditch; and he saw the last stand of the Old Guard.
Whether Napoleon was beaten or not no one could say. "He'll be back tomorrow with reinforcements," many said. Nathan Rothschild thought otherwise.
At nightfall he drew the girth of his saddle two holes tighter, threw away his pistols, coat and hat, and rode away, on a gentle patter. After two miles this was increased to a stiff gallop. He knew his horse--he was turning off each mile in just five minutes. He rode sixty miles in five hours, using up three horses. The messenger to whom he tossed his saddlebags asked no questions, but leaping astride his horse, dived into the darkness and was gone. Rothschild's men were twenty-four hours ahead of the regular post.
When the news reached London that Wellington had won, the Banking House of Rothschild had no cash, but its safe was stuffed with English Securities.
Nathan Rothschild made his way leisurely back to London. On arriving there he found himself richer, by more than five hundred thousand pounds, than he was when he rode away.
* * * * * * *
In Eighteen Hundred Twenty-two, the Emperor of Austria conferred the title of Baron on the sons of Mayer Anselm Rothschild.
It was the first and only time in history where five brothers were so honored at one time.
Certain sarcastic persons have pointed out the fact that this wholesale decoration was done immediately after the Rothschilds had floated a rather large and risky loan for his Kingship. This is irrelevant, inconsequential, and outside the issue. That the House of Rothschild with its branches had an open sesame upon the purse-strings of Europe for half a century is a fact. Nations in need of cash had to apply to the Rothschilds. The Rothschilds didn't loan them the money--they merely looked after the details of the loan, and guaranteed the lender that the interest would not be defaulted. Their agencies everywhere were in touch with investors. The nobility are a timid sort--they like to invest their hard-earned savings outside of their bailiwick--nobody knows what will happen!
The Rothschilds would not float a loan until they were assured that the premises were not mortgaged. More than this, there was a superstition all 'round that they were backed up by J. Bull, and J. Bull is a close collector.
The Rothschilds made government loans popular--before this, kings got their cash mostly by coercion.
For their services the Rothschilds asked only the most modest fee--a fee so small it was absurd--a sixteenth of one per cent, or something like that.
It is safe to say that only one Government in the world, at some time or other from Eighteen Hundred Fifteen to Eighteen Hundred Seventy, never courted the Rothschilds with "intentions."
America never quite forgot, nor forgave, that Hessian incident, and the Rothschilds were never asked for favors by your Uncle Samuel.
There were four generations of Rothschilds, among whom there have been very able men. This beats the rule by three generations, and the record by one.
The Frankfort House of Rothschild was dissolved in Nineteen Hundred One. The London firm still continues, but I am advised that the Rothschilds, while interesting in a historic way, are no longer looked upon as a world power.
Letizia, the mother of ten, is worthy of more space than I am able here to give her. There are those who say she was the real founder of the House of Rothschild. She died aged exactly one hundred, in the Red Shield, where she was married and where all of her children were born.
She outlived the fall of Napoleon just forty years. She had a fine and pardonable pride in her kingly sons.
Politics and world problems interested her. She was sane and sensible and happy to the last.
|Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily|
In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.