Salomon Maimon.

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belief in mysteries, and to make the preservation of the
lesser mysteries part of the subject of the greater.

The Jewish religion, according to the spirit of its
founder, is of the first kind. Moses, as well as the
prophets who followed him, sought constantly to incul-
cate that the end of religion is not external ceremonies^
but the knowledge of the true God as the sole incom-
prehensible cause of all things, and the practice of virtue
in accordance with the prescriptions of reason.

The heathen religions, on the other hand, show
evident traces of the second kind. Still I am not, like
some, inclined to believe that everything in these was
planned for intentional deception, but I believe that the
founders ot these religions were for the most part
deceived deceivers ; and this mode of representing the
matter is far more in accordance with human nature. I
am also unable to imagine that such secret designs could
be propagated, by means of a formal tradition, from
generation to generation. And, moreover, what would
have been the use of this ? Have not later generations
the same faculty as the earlier of contriving schemes to
reach their ends ? There are princes who have never
read Macchiavelli, and yet have admirably carried his
principles into practice.

\Vith regard to the society of pietists described above
I am persuaded that it had as little connection with the

An Autobiography. 185

free-masons as with any other secret society. But
conjectures are allowed, and here we have to do merely
with the degree of probability. In my opinion there are
in every state societies which are essentially secret, but
which externally have no appearance of being such.
Every body of men with a common interest is to me a
secret^-SQciety^ Its aim and principal operations may be
ever so well known, still the most important of these
remain concealed to the uninitiated. Of such a secret
society, as of others, much good as well as evil may
therefore be said ; and so long as they do not carry their
mischief too far, they are always tolerated.

The Society of Pietists had a similar end in view to
that of the Order of lUuminati in Bavaria, and employed
nearly the same means. Its aim was to spread itself
among people wandering in the dark ; and it made use
of superstition in a remarkable manner, as means to this
end. It sought chiefly to attract the youth to itself, and
by a sort of empirical knowledge of men, to educate
every member to that, for which he seemed to be des-
tined by nature, and to assign him his proper place.
Every member of the society was allowed to acquire as
much knowledge of its aim and internal constitution, as
enabled him to look merely backwards on his subordi-
nates, but not forwards on his superiors. These supe-
riors understood the art of communicating truths of
reason by means of sublime figures, and of translating
these figurative representations into truths of reason. It


1 86 Solomon Maimon:

might almost be said of them, that they understood the
language of animals — a very important art, which is in-
dispensable to every teacher of the people. By doing
away with a gloomy piety, their doctrines met with ac-
ceptance among the lively youth. The principle of self-
annihilation, taught by them, is, when well understood,
nothing else than the foundation of self-activity. By its
means all the modes of thought and action, which have
become rooted by education, habit and communication
with others, and by which human activity is wont to re-
ceive a wrong direction, are to be destroyed, and one's
own free mode of action introduced. Moral and aesthe-
tic feeling can in fact be preserved and perfected by this
principle alone. It is only when ill understood, that it
can be injurious, as I have shown by the example of this
society itself.


\' An Autobiography. 187


Journeys to Konigsberg, Stettin and Berlin, for the purpose of
extending my knowledge of men.

My external circumstances were becoming worse and
worse. I was unwilling any longer to adapt myself to
my ordinary occupations, and found myself therefore
everywhere out of my sphere. On the other hand, I
was also unable in the place of my abode to satisfy suf-
ficiently my favourite inclination to the study of the
sciences. So I determined to betake myself to Germany,
there to study medicine and, as opportunity offered, other
sciences also. But the question was, how such a long
journey was to be made. I knew indeed, that some
merchants in the place of my abode were soon to make
a journey to Konigsberg in Prussia ; but I had only a
slight acquaintance with them, and could not therefore
expect that they would take me with them for nothing.
After much deliberation I fell at last upon a capital

I had among my friends a very learned and pious
man, who stood in great esteem among all the Jews of
the town. To him I revealed my purpose, and took
him into counsel on the subject. I laid before him my

1 88 Solomon Mavnon :

miscrai)lc circumstances, pointed out to him, that, as my
inclinations had been once directed to the knowledge of
God and His works, I was no longer fit for any ordinary
occupation ; and I represented to him especially, that I
was now obliged to support myself by my scholarship
alone, as an instructor in the Bible and the Talmud,
which, according to the judgment of some rabbis, was
not altogether allowable. I explained to him, that on
this account I wished to study medicine as a profane
art, by which means I might be of service, not only to
myself, but to the whole of the Jews in this neighbour-
hood, as there was no regular physician here, and those,
who gave themselves out for such, were the most
ignorant shavers, who packed men out of the world by
their cures.

These reasons produced an extraordinary effect on so
devout a man. He went to a merchant of his acquain-
tance, represented to him the importance of my under-
taking, and persuaded him to take me with him to
Konigsberg on his own vessel. The merchant could
refuse nothing to so godly a man, and therefore gave
his consent.

Accordingly I set out with this Jewish merchant for
Konigsberg in Prussia. When I arrived there, I went
to the Jewish medical doctor of the place, opened to him
my proposal to study medicine, and begged him for
advice and support. As his professional occupations
prevented him from conveniently speaking with me on

An Autobiography. 189

the subject, and as he could not understand me well at
any rate, he referred me to some students who lodged in
his house. As soon as I showed myself to these young
gentlemen, and opened to them my proposal, they burst
into loud laughter. And certainly for this they were not
to be blamed. Imagine a man from Polish Lithuania of
about five and twenty years, with a tolerably stiff beard,
in tattered dirty clothes, whose language is a mixture of
Hebrew, Jewish German, Polish and Russian, with their
several grammatical inaccuracies, who gives out that he
understands the German language, and that he has
attained some knowledge of the sciences. What were
the young gentlemen to think ?

They began to poke fun at me, and gave me to read
Mendelssohn's Phaedo, which by chance lay on the table.
I read in the most pitiful style, both on account of the
peculiar manner in which I had learned the German
language, and on account of my bad pronunciation.
Again they burst into loud laughter ; but they said, I
must explain to them what I had read. This I did in
my own fashion ; but as they did not understand me,
they demanded that I should translate what I had read
into Hebrew. This I did on the spot. The students,
who understood Hebrew well, fell into no slight astonish-
ment, when they saw that I had not only grasped
correctly the meaning of this celebrated author, but also
expressed it happily in Hebrew. They began therefore
to interest themselves on my account, procured for me

iQo Solomon Maimon:

some cast-off clothing, and board during my stay in
Konigsberg. At the same time they advised me to go
to Berlin, where I should best attain my object. To
make the journey suit my circumstances, however, they
advised me to go by ship from Konigsberg to Stettin,
and thence to Frankfurt on the Oder, from which place
I should easily find means of getting to Berlin.

I went therefore by ship, and had nothing for food
but some toast, some herring, and a flask of spirits. I
was told in Konigsberg, that the journey might take ten
or, at the most, fourteen days. This prophecy, however,
was not fulfilled. In consequence of contrary winds, the
voyage lasted five weeks. In what circumstances, there-
fore, I found myself, may be easily imagined. There
were in the vessel besides me no other passengers, but
an old woman, who sang hymns all the time for her
comfort. The Pomeranian German of the crew I could
understand as little as they could my medley of Jewish,
Polish and Lithuanian. I got nothing warm to eat the
whole time, and was obliged to sleep on hard stuffed
bags. The vessel came also sometimes into danger. Of
course the most of the time I was seasick.

At last I arrived at Stettin, where I was told that I
could make the journey to Frankfurt quite pleasantly on
foot. But how was a Polish Jew in the most wretched
circumstances, without a pfennig to buy food, and with-
out knowing the language of the country, to make a
journey even of a few miles ? Yet it had to be done.

An Autobiography.


Accordingly I set out from Stettin, and as I thought over
my miserable situation, I sat down under a lime-tree, and
began to weep bitterly. I soon became somewhat lighter
in heart ; I took courage, and went on. After I had
gone two or three miles, towards evening I arrived at an
inn thoroughly worn out. It was the eve of the Jewish
fast, which falls in August. Already I was nearly starv-
ing with hunger and thirst, and I was to fast still the
whole of the next day. I had not a pfennig to spend
and nothing of any value to sell.

After long reflection it occurred to me, that I must
still have in my coat-pocket an iron spoon, which I had
taken with me on board ship, I brought it, and begged
the landlady of the inn to give me a little bread and
beer for it. She refused at first to take the spoon, but
after much importunity she was at last induced to grant
a glass of sour beer in exchange. I was obliged there-
fore to content myself with this, drank my glass of beer,
and went off to the stable to sleep on straw.

In the morning I proceeded on my journey, having
previously inquired for a place, where there were Jews,
in order that I might be able to go into the synagogue,
and sing with my brethren the lamentations over the
destruction of Jerusalem. This was done, and after the
prayers and singing, — about midday, — I went to the
Jewish schoolmaster of the place, and held some conver-
sation with him. He soon discovered that I was a full
rabbi, began to interest himself about me, and procured

1 9 2 Solomon Maimon :

mc a supper at the house of a Jew. He also gave me a
letter of introduction to another schoolmaster in the
neighbouring town, recommending me as a great Tal-
niudist and an honourable rabbi. Here also I met with
a fair reception. I was invited to the Sabbath dinner
by the most respectable and richest Jew of the place,
and went into the synagogue, where I was shown to the
highest seat, and received every mark of honour usually
bestowed on a rabbi.

After the close of the service the rich Jew referred to
took me to his house, and put me in the place of honour
at his table, that is between himself and his daughter.
She was a young girl of about twelve years, dressed in
the most beautiful style. I began, as rabbi, to hold
a very learned and edifying discourse ; and the less the
gentleman and lady understood it, the more divine it
seemed to them. All at once I observed, to my chagrin,
that the young lady began to put on a sour look, and to
make wry faces. At first I did not know how to explain
this ; but, after a while, when I turned my eyes upon
myself and my miserable dirty suit of rags, the whole
mystery was at once unriddled. The uneasiness of the
young lady had a very good cause. And how could it
be otherwise? Since I left Konigsberg, about seven
weeks before, I had never had a clean shirt to put on ;
and I had been obliged to lie in the stables of inns on
bare straw, on which who knows how many poor
travellers had lain before? Now all at once my eyes

An Autobiography. iq3

were opened to see my misery in its appalling mag-
nitude. But what was I to do ? How was I to help
myself out of this unfortunate situation ? Gloomy and
sad I soon bade farewell to these good people, and pro-
ceeded on my journey to Berlin under a continued
struggle with want and misery of every kind.

At last I reached this city. Here I believed that
I should put an end to my misery, and accomplish all
my wishes. But alas I was sadly deceived. In this
capital, as is well known, no Jewish beggars were al-
lowed. Accordingly the Jewish community of the place,
in order to make provision for their poor, have built at
the Rosenthaler gate a house, in which the poor are
received, and questioned by the Jewish elders about
what they want in Berlin. According to the results of
such inquiry, they are either taken into the city, if they
are sick or want employment, or they are sent forward
on their journey. I was therefore conducted to this
house, which was filled partly with sick people, partly
^ with a lewd rabble. For a long while I looked round
in vain for a man, with whom I might talk about my

At last I observed a man, who, to judge by his dress,
was surely a rabbi. I went to him, and how great was
my joy to learn from him, that he was really a rabbi,
and pretty well known in Berlin ! I conversed with him
on all sorts of subjects connected with rabbinical learn-
ing ; and as I was very open-hearted, I related to him

IQA Solomon Maimon : s

the course of my life in Poland, revealed to him my
purpose of studying medicine in Berlin, showed him my
commentary on the Moreh Nebhochim, and so forth. He
listened to all, and seemed to interest himself very much
in my behalf. But all at once he disappeared out of


At length towards evening came the Jewish elders.
Each of the persons in the house was called, and
questioned about his wants. When my turn came, I
said quite frankly, that I wished to remain in Berlin, in
order to study medicine. The elders refused my request
point-blank, gave me a pittance in charity, and went
away. The reason of this conduct towards me in
particular was nothing else than the following.

The rabbi, of whom I spoke, was a zealot in his ortho-
doxy. Accordingly when he had discovered my senti-
ments and purposes, he went into town, and informed
the elders about my heretical mode of thinking. He
told them, that I was going to issue a new edition of the
Moreh Nebhochi??i with a commentary, and that my
intention was not so much to study medicine, but mainly
to devote myself to the sciences in general, and to extend
my knowledge. This the orthodox Jews look upon as
something dangerous to religion and good morals. They
believe this to be specially true of the Polish rabbis, who,
having by some lucky accident been delivered from the
bondage of superstition, suddenly catch a gleam of the
light of reason, and set themselves free from their chains.

An Autobiography, 195

And this belief is to some extent well-founded. Persons
in such a position may be compared to a man, who, after
being famished for a long time, suddenly comes upon a
well spread table, who will attack the food with violent
greed, and fill himself even to surfeiting.

The refusal of permission to stay in Berlin came upon
me like a thunderclap. The ultimate object of all my
hopes and wishes was all at once removed beyond my
reach, just when I had seen it so near. I found myself
in the' situation of Tantalus, and did not know where to
turn for help. I was especially pained by the treatment
I received from the overseer of this poorhouse, who, by
command of his superiors, urged my speedy departure,
and never left off till he saw me outside of the gate.
There I threw myself on the ground and began to weep
bitterly. It was a Sunday, and many people went, as
usual, to walk outside of the city. Most of them never
turned aside to a whining worm like me, but some com-
passionate souls were very much struck with the sight,
and asked the cause of my wailing. I answered them ;
but, partly on account of my unintelligible language,
partly because my speech was broken by frequent weep-
ing and sobbing, they could not understand what I said.

I was so deeply affected by this vexation, that I fell
into a violent fever. The soldiers, who kept guard at
the gate, reported this at the poorhouse. The overseer
came, and carried me in. I stayed there over the day,
and made myself glad with the hope of becoming

,n6 Solomon Mainion :

thoroughly sick, so as to enforce a longer sojourn in the
place, during which I thought I might form some
acquaintances, by whose influence I hoped to receive
protection and permission to remain in BerUn. But
alas ! in this hope I was deceived. The following day I
rose quite lively again without a trace of fever. I was
therefore obliged to go. But whither? That I did not
know myself. Accordingly I took the first road that I
came upon, and surrendered myself to fate.

An Autobiography. 197


Deepest Stage of Misery, and Deliverance.

In the evening I came to an inn, where I met a poor
tramp who was a Jewish beggar by profession. I was
uncommonly pleased to meet one of my brethren, with
whom I could talk, and to whom this neighbourhood was
pretty well known. I resolved therefore to wander about
the country with this companion, and to preserve my life
in this way, though two such heterogeneous persons were
nowhere to be met with in the world. I was an educated
rabbi; he was an idiot. I had hitherto maintained my-
self in an honourable way ; he was a beggar by profession.
I had ideas of morality, propriety, and decency ; he
knew nothing of these. Finally, I was in sound health,
it is true, but still of weakly constitution ; he, on the
other hand, was a sturdy, able-bodied fellow, who would
have made the best of soldiers.

Notwithstanding these differences, I stuck close to the
man, as, in order to prolong life, I was compelled to be-
come a vagrant in a strange land. In our wanderings I
laboured to communicate to my companion ideas of re-
ligion and of true morality, while he in return instructed

iqS Solomon Maimon:

me in the art of begging. He taught me the usual for-
mulas of the art, and recommended me especially to
curse and swear, whenever I was sent away without any-
thing. But with all the trouble, which he gave himself
in the matter, his teachings would not take any hold on
me. The formulas of begging appeared to me absurd
I thought, if a man was once compelled to beg help of
others, he should express his feelings in the most simple
form. As far as cursing was concerned, I could not un-
derstand why a man, who refused another's request,
should draw a curse upon himself; and then it seemed
to me, that the man thus treated would be thereby em-
bittered, and the beggar be all the less likely to attain
his object. When therefore I went to beg with my com-
rade, I conducted myself always as if I were begging and
cursing at the same time, but in fact I never spoke a
single intelligible word. If, on the other hand, I went
alone, I had absolutely nothing to say ; but from my
appearance and conduct could easily be seen what was
wanted. My comrade sometimes scolded me on account
of my slowness in learning his art, and this I bore with
the greatest patience.

In this way we wandered about in a district of a few
miles for nearly half a year. At last we resolved to turn
our steps towards Poland. When we arrived at Posen
we took up our quarters in the Jewish poorhouse, the
master of which was a poor jobbing tailor. Here I
formed the resolve, at whatever cost, to bring my

An Autobiography. 199

wandering to a close. It was harvest-time, and already
began to be pretty cold. I was almost naked and bare-
foot. By this vagrant life, in which I never got any
regular meals, for the most part had to content myself
with bits of mouldy bread and water, and at night was
obliged to lie on old straw, sometimes even on the bare
earth, my health had seriously suflered. Besides, the
sacred seasons and fast-days in the Jewish calendar were
coming on; and as at that time I was of a somewhat
strong religious disposition, I could not endure the
thought of passing in complete idleness this period
which others employed for the welfare of their souls.

I resolved, therefore, for the present at least, to go no
farther, and, at all events if it should come to the worst,
to throw myself before the synagogue, and either die
there or excite the compassion of my brethren, and by
that means bring my sufferings to an end. Consequently
as soon as my comrade awoke in the morning, began to
make arrangements for a begging tour, and summoned
me to the same, I told him that I would not go with
him at present; and when he asked how I intended to
sustain life in any other way, I was able to answer
nothing but " God will surely help."

I then went off to the Jewish school. Here I found
a number of scholars, some of whom were reading,
while others took advantage of the master's absence to
pass the time in play. I also took a book to read.
The scholars, who were struck by my strange dress,

200 Solomon Maitnon :

approached and asked me whence I came and what I
wanted. Their questions I answered in my Lithuanian
dialect, at which they began to laugh, and make merry
at my expense. For this I cared little. But I
recollected that, some years before, a chief rabbi from
my neighbourhood had been appointed to the same
office in Posen, and that he had taken with him an
acquaintance and a good friend of mine as his secretary.
Accordingly I asked the boys about this friend. To my
extreme grief I learned that he was no longer in Posen,
as the chief rabbi had been afterwards promoted to the
same office in Hamburg, and his secretary had gone
with him to that place. They told me, however, that his
son, a boy about twelve years old, had been left behind
in Posen with the present chief rabbi, who was a son-in-
law of his predecessor.

This information saddened me not a little. Still the
last circumstance gave me some hope. I inquired after
the dwelling of the new chief rabbi, and went to it ; but,
as I was almost naked, I shrank from entering, and
waited until I saw some one going into the house, whom
I begged to be so good as to call my friend's son out.
The boy recognised me at once, and manifested his
astonishment at seeing me here in such a pitiable plight.
I replied, that this was not the time to relate all the mis-
fortunes which had brought me into this state, and that
at present he should consider merely how he might some-
what relieve my distress.

An Autobiography. 201

This he promised to do. He went to the chief rabbi,
and announced me as a great scholar and a pious man,
who by extraordinary accidents had fallen into a very
miserable condition. The chief rabbi, who was an ex-
cellent man, an acute Talmudist, and of very gentle
character, was touched by my distress, and sent for me
to come in. He conversed with me a while, discussing
some of the most important subjects in the Talmud, and
found me well versed in all branches of Jewish learning.
Then he inquired about my intentions, and I told him
that I wished to be introduced as a tutor into some
family, but that meanwhile my only desire was to be able
to celebrate the sacred season here, and for this short
period at least to interrupt my travels.

The good-hearted rabbi bade me, so far as this was
concerned, to lay aside all anxiety, spoke of my desire as
a small matter, which it was nothing more than reason-
able to want. He then gave me what money he had by
him, invited me to dine with him every Sabbath, as long
as I remained here, and bade his boy procure a respect-
able lodging for me. The boy came back soon, and
conducted me to my lodging. I expected this to be only
a small chamber in the house of some poor man. I was
therefore not a little astonished, when I found myself in
the house of one of the oldest Jews of the town, and
that here had been prepared for me a neat little room,

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