Anti-Semitism in the Regency

In 1782, the German tourist, Karl Philipp Moritz toured England on foot and by stagecoach. He was a liberal Anglophile clergyman who loved the countryside and architecture of England but had mixed feeling about some of the English people he met. After his visit to London he decided to take the coach the village of Richmond and, en route, the coach stopped at Kensington to pick up more passengers and fill the pockets of the driver with extra money. A Jew applied for a place and wished to have one for the more comfortable seats inside the vehicle. This would not have bothered the passengers on the inside, as it was perfectly possible to go for miles without talking to anybody on English stagecoach journey if the company was disagreeable.

What bothered Moritz’s fellow travellers was the fact that there were places free on the more dangerous and uncomfortable outside seats, but the Jew decided not to bother. “They could not help thinking it somewhat preposterous that a Jew should be ashamed to ride on the outside, or on any side, and in any way; since as they added, he was nothing more than a Jew”. Moritz noted that antipathy towards Jews was as bad, if not slightly worse than his native Prussia, and that it was prejudice rather than discrimination. A Jew with money could ride in whatever part of the vehicle he wanted – this was not the segregated public transport of 1950s USA – but they had no right to have even a moderate opinion of themselves.

Anti-Semitism in England was of the unthinking, religiously inspired, casual variety, not the farrago of conspiracy and racial theory that we see today. It went deep into all social classes. Moritz left his coach and tramped all over the country on foot and therefore could only gain access to the Inns and public houses of the lower classes. He met a lot of casual racism there too; he remembers one throw away conversation

The one that sat next to him now began to talk about the Jews of the Old Testament, and assured us that the present race were all descended from those old ones. “Ay, and they are all damned to all eternity!” said his companion, as coolly and as confidently as if at that moment he had seen them burning in the bottomless pit.

So taking a random month and year of the Regency – September 1816- the Jews are seen in various ways. On September 1, The Scots’ Magazine produced a disturbing image of Tangier. This primitive and dangerous “piratical emporium” was the home of Turks, Moors, Jews, Renegades (Pirates and criminals) and Christians held as slaves- all of the bad things it was possible to be, and all in the same place

On September 2 , Patrick Colquhoun, the legal reformer was questioned by a parliamentary committee about the explosion in the incidents of petty crime since the war with France. Colquhoun noted that there were 8000 places in central London where stolen goods could be fenced, and this did not include the iterant Jews who dealt in second hand clothes and other goods- it is easy to see where the Fagin image came from; Jews who were rootless were a threat; some form of licensing and identification was desirable to identify them
There was a strong belief in what the Nazis would later call “rootless cosmopolitanism”- the idea that the Jews could thrive anywhere while remaining loyal to nobody but themselves. On 5 September, the Derby Mercury admitted that the brutal treatment of Jews in Spain and Portugal had forced them to become refugees in Morocco. However, their sympathy was quickly expended.

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It goes on to list of the appalling treatment of the Jews and to list their activities- they farmed revenues, they coined money, “ furnished and fabricated jewellery” and generally acted as intermediaries in finance and government. In exchange this they were hated by both the elite and the rabble. While they article did not approve of the barbaric treatment of the Jews ( it was being done by Muslim Moors-an even more barbaric group and therefore this made sense) there was little sympathy either.

Jews were always identified. On September 1816, Andrew Davis was in court, accused of being an insolvent debtor while seeming to have a large number of businesses on the go. The prosecution asked him if he was a Jew; he replied that yes he was, and would die one, but he was “ not a Jew in all the principles of these people” ….meaning that he was honest. Davis didn’t take the court very seriously; when asked if he had ever run an establishment for virtuous ladies in Covent Garden, replied “I was never that fortunate”. As he left the court, the Morning Chronicle reported that “gave one of his uncircumcised creditors a blow to the eye, saying that he would never have a shilling. In a similar case that month, the “Jew Cohen”, another bankrupt, was accused of creating fictional debts to others Jews and paying them before his genuine Christian creditors.

Jews were often seen as undermining the legal system. So it is unsurprising that a case of a Jewish bankrupt behaving badly should make the national newspapers. Patrick Colquhoun, who had linked Jews to receivers of stolen goods earlier in the month, complained on 8 September that prisoners were avoiding justice by Jews swearing that they were financially able to honour a bail bond and then running off after taking a payment from the prisoner, who likewise would not be seen again. However, all the blame was heaped on only one of the two criminals for this “Jew Bail”
A conversion was news in newspapers all over the country. George Gerfon “ a respectable Jew” aged about 40, converted to Christianity when he realised he was dying. Rather than doubt his motives, the Bath Chronicle of September 12 believed that he was under pressure from his religious community “in a way not consistent with liberty of conscience or the delicacy due to a dying man”
In late 1816 there was a currency crisis in Britain; small denomination coins were in short supply and at the same time the old defaced silver coins were being replaced by new ones. The old coins were still legal, but it was reported that “Moses” – the stereotypical cunning Jew -was presenting themselves outside coaching in and telling more credulous incoming passengers that the old coins “ would not pass” and offered to buy them at a discount. This story, mentioned only once, is hard to believe; the whole country knew the status of the coins; and those travelling on the stage coach were an elite who would certainly not be fooled by anybody trying this ruse.

Remember this was only one month…….

My introduction 

Publisher’s details

Three minute YouTube review of the book here

 

Converting the Jews 1809-1813

FreyThe Rev Frey ( above)

The conversion of the Jews to Christianity was seen by many of the Regency period as an important charitable act, similar to the help given to fallen women and the industrious poor. The main engine of this philanthropy was the London Society Promoting Christianity Amongst The Jews. It was proposed in August 1808 and was inaugurated on February 15th, 1809.

Its aim was “the benevolent purpose of rescuing the unhappy Jews from the state of moral degradation in which they find themselves”. They were a missionary organisation. One of their key members was William Wilberforce, the most famous proselytising evangelical of the time. They were mostly from the Church of England, with the addition of a few token dissenters.

By 1810, they had purchased a French Protestant Church in Church Street, Spitalfields, which had originally been built by the Huguenot community in 1743. Their newspaper advertisement said that they had produced 8000 pamphlets and opened a school in the East End, a printing press and a House of Industry.

Their leading light and founder was  the Reverend Joseph Samuel C.F Frey, a Church of England Minister who was a Jewish convert. In April 1810, the Rev Frey was in Oxfordshire and in October he was in Scotland. It seems that the whole message of the London Jews’ Society was quite conciliatory in an age where Jews were held under the greatest of suspicion. While the society stressed the necessity for conversion, they asked their lecture audience to realise the importance of the first five books of the Torah as a foundation of Christianity. Jews had been a positive boon to civilisation, despite their error 1700 years ago. “Gratitude” says one of their newspaper reports “demands our assistance and commiseration” The Society pointed out that the treatment of Jews in Christian had been  historically appalling and was not likely to encourage them to repent. They also praised Napoleon, a dangerous thing to do in Britain in 1811.

“Whatever the rapacity and injustice of the French Emperor, his enlightened policy towards the Jews deserves the imitation of every European power”

A letter to the Chester Courant (31.12.1811) supported the work of the society and the writer equally keen not to slur the Jews; the author was Michael Collin, a Jewish Rabbi convert. However there was a whiff of condescension; the Jews were in a lethargic slumber from which they need to be wakened; their ancestors had made the errors and had put the modern Jews under terrible, untenable obligations.

By 1811, the Society had set up an auxiliary branch in Carlisle and Dublin. The Carlisle Branch used mass subscriptions of 1 penny a week to raise £50 per year and the Dublin branch did the same, with the added help of donations from the enlightened yet pious members of the Irish “bon ton”. Both organisations raised money for a House of Industry for Jewish Women in the East End. The Dublin Branch, meeting for the first time in November 1811, noted with concern that there were 400   Jewesses in London, in “a debased state of human wretchedness”.

The Rev Frey was still sermonising around Great Britain. In 1811 he was in Chester and North Wales, at ten places in 12 days, including one day when he was in  Conway at 11am and Bangor at 6pm.

In April  1811 the society boasted a new Hebrew –Christian  Chapel in Bethnal Green, an increase in Jewish Children at the school from 36 in 1810 to 51, many thousands of more tracts in English, German and Hebrew and 24 baptisms. From our point of view, this may be a low number, but when the Society  was formed  in 1809 it was noted that there were no more than 30 converted Jews in the whole of the country.

A Jewish printing house had been established with many converted Jews employed; the implication was that they were being provided with jobs after losing them when they converted- to quote the Sussex Auxiliary Society formed in 1814-those persecuted for righteousness sake”. Cotton weaving equipment was purchased for a group of converts who had been pushed out of their synagogue and were now the deserving poor. Frey was in constant danger from the working class Jews of Spitalfields too; his early convert Bernard Jacob was attacked with his children in 1809. Frey  was a hard working and brave man.

In May 1812 the Rev John Hutchins was in Colchester and Ipswich. In July he preached to 2000 people crowded into St Mary’s Bungay. They were now up to 35 baptisms with 70 children at two schools (slightly ominously)they were pleased to   add that 55 of the children were “entirely taken from their parents” .

In many ways this seems to be a real achievement; although the number of new baptisms seems disappointing poor. Indeed most of the audience for the sermons were Christian. Most of the lectures and sermons were held in Church of England places of worship; but dissenter chapels were also used; there were no visits to purely Jewish audiences.

Twenty eight pounds were raised from both poor and rich at Bungay; like all advertisements and propaganda from the Society, it was made very clear that ladies were very welcome and would be accommodated. They used the same techniques of taking money from both rich and poor, creating elite fundraising   events and penny societies for the poor. Cheshire had its own separate gentlewomen’s Society, were the lowest  respectable annual subscription was a guinea.

As auxiliary branches sprung up, their success continued.. At Ipswich in March 1813 it was announced that there were 42 baptisms and 104 children in the school and their Chapel in Church Street Spitalfields now had a Congregation of the Hebrew- Christian Benei Abraham (The Children of Abraham)-the first Chapel for Converted Jews in Britain.

The Society expanded into a global missionary organisation and survives today as the The Church’s Ministry Among Jewish People, and is one of the ten missionary societies of the Church of England.

My book on the grim reality of Regency Britain is available now .

https://about1816.wordpress.com/2017/11/17/the-dark-days-of-georgian-britain/