SIR MOSES MONTEFIORE.
We still deal strangely with the Jews. While at one end of Europe an
Israelite scarcely dares show himself in the streets for fear of being
stoned and abused, in other countries of the same continent we see them
prime ministers, popular authors, favorite composers of music,
capitalists, philanthropists, to whom whole nations pay homage.
Sir Moses Montefiore, though an English baronet, is an Israelite of the
Israelites, connected by marriage and business with the Rothschilds, and
a sharer in their wonderful accumulations of money. His hundredth
birthday was celebrated in 1883 at his country-house on the English
coast, and celebrated in such a way as to make the festival one of the
most interesting events of the year. The English papers tell us that
nearly a hundred telegrams of congratulation and benediction reached the
aged man in the course of the day, from America, Africa, Asia, and
all-parts of Europe, from Christians, Jews, Mahomedans, and men of the
world. The telegraph offices, we are told, were clogged during the
morning with these messages, some of which were of great length, in
foreign languages and in strange alphabets, such as the Arabic and
Hebrew. Friends in England sent him addresses in the English manner,
several of which were beautifully written upon parchment and superbly
mounted. The railroad passing near his house conveyed to him by every
train during the day presents of rare fruit and beautiful flowers. The
Jews in Spain and Portugal forwarded presents of the cakes prepared by
orthodox Jews for the religious festival which occurred on his birthday.
Indeed, there has seldom been in Europe such a widespread and cordial
recognition of the birthday of any private citizen.
Doubtless, the remarkable longevity of Sir Moses had something to do
with emphasizing the celebration. Great wealth, too, attracts the regard
of mankind. But there are many rich old Jews in the world whose birthday
excites no enthusiasm. The briefest review of the long life of Sir Moses
Montefiore will sufficiently explain the almost universal recognition of
the recent anniversary.
He was born as long ago as 1784, the second year of American
independence, when William Pitt was prime minister of England. He was
five years old when the Bastille was stormed, and thirty-one when the
battle of Waterloo was fought. He was in middle life before England had
become wise enough to make Jew and Christian equal before the law, and
thus attract to her shores one of the most gifted and one of the most
virtuous of races.
The father of Sir Moses lived and died in one of the narrow old streets
near the centre of London called Philpot Lane, where he became the
father of an old-fashioned family of seventeen children. This prolific
parent was a man of no great wealth, and consequently his eldest son,
Moses, left school at an early age, and was apprenticed to a London firm
of provision dealers. He was a singularly handsome young man, of
agreeable manners and most engaging disposition, circumstances which led
to his entering the Stock Exchange. This was at a time when only twelve
Jewish brokers were allowed to carry on business in London, and he was
one of the twelve.
At the age of twenty-eight he had fully entered upon his career, a
broker and a married man, his wife the daughter of Levy Cohen, a rich
and highly cultivated Jewish merchant. His wife's sister had married N.
M. Rothschild, and one of his brothers married Rothschild's sister.
United thus by marriage to the great banker, he became also his partner
in business, and this at a time when the gains of the Rothschilds were
greatest and most rapid.
Most readers remember how the Rothschilds made their prodigious profits
during the last years of Bonaparte's reign. They had a pigeon express at
Dover, by means of which they obtained the first correct news from the
continent. During the "Hundred Days," for example, such a panic
prevailed in England that government bonds were greatly depressed. The
first rumors from Waterloo were of defeat and disaster, which again
reduced consols to a panic price. The Rothschilds, notified of the
victory a few hours sooner than the government itself, bought largely of
securities which, in twenty-four hours, almost doubled in value. Moses
Montefiore, sharing in these transactions, found himself at forty-five a
Instead of slaving away in business to the end of his life, adding
million to million, with the risk of losing all at last, he took the
wise resolution of retiring from business and devoting the rest of his
life to works of philanthropy.
When Queen Victoria came to the throne in 1837, Moses Montefiore was
sheriff of London. The queen had lived near his country-house, and had
often as a little girl strolled about his park. She now enjoyed the
satisfaction of conferring upon her neighbor the honor of knighthood,
and a few years later she made him a baronet. Thus he became Sir Moses,
which has an odd sound to us, but which in England seems natural enough.
During the last fifty years Sir Moses has been, as it were, a
professional philanthropist. Every good cause has shared his bounty, but
he has been most generous to poor members of his own race and religion.
He has visited seven times the Holy Land, where the Jews have been for
ages impoverished and degraded. He has directed his particular attention
to improving the agriculture of Palestine, once so fertile and
productive, and inducing the Jews to return to the cultivation of the
soil. In that country he himself caused to be planted an immense garden,
in which there are nine hundred fruit trees, made productive by
irrigation. He has promoted the system of irrigation by building
aqueducts, digging wells, and providing improved apparatus. He has also
endowed hospitals and almshouses in that country.
In whatever part of the world, during the last fifty years, the Jews
have been persecuted or distressed, he has put forth the most efficient
exertions for their relief, often going himself to distant countries to
convey the requisite assistance. When he was ninety-one years of age he
went to Palestine upon an errand of benevolence. He has pleaded the
cause of his persecuted brethren before the Emperor of Russia, and
pleaded it with success. To all that part of the world known to us
chiefly through the Jews he has been a constant and most munificent
benefactor during the last half century, while never turning a deaf ear
to the cry of want nearer home.
In October he completes his hundredth year. At present (January, 1884),
he reads without spectacles, hears well, stands nearly erect, although
six feet three in height, and has nothing of the somnolence of old age.
He drives out every day, gets up at eleven, and goes to bed at nine. His
diet is chiefly milk and old port wine, with occasionally a little soup
or bread and butter. He still enjoys the delights of beneficence, which
are among the keenest known to mortals, and pleases himself this year by
giving checks of ninety-nine pounds to benevolent objects, a pound for
each year that he has had the happiness of living.