Salomon Maimon.

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which was the study of the master, he and his son being

both scholars.

o



!02



Solomon Maivwn



As soon as I had looked round a little, I went to the
housewife, and, thrusting some coppers into her hand, I
asked her to get me some gruel for supper. She began
to smile at my simplicity, and said, " No, no, sir, that is
not our agreement. The chief rabbi has not given you
such a recommendation, that you are obliged to have us
making you gruel for money." She then went on to ex-
plain, that I was not only to lodge in her house, but also
to eat and drink with them, as long as I stayed in the
town. I was astonished at this unexpected good fortune;
but my delight was still greater, when after supper I was
shown to a clean bed. I could not believe my eyes, and
asked several times, " Is this really for me ? " I can say
with truth, that never, before or since this incident, have
I felt such a degree of happiness, as when I lay down
that night, and felt my limbs, which for half a year had
been overwearied and almost broken, recovering their
former strength in a soft bed.

I slept till late in the day. I had scarcely risen when
the chief rabbi sent for me to come and see him. When
I made my appearance he asked me how I was pleased
with my lodging. I could not find words to express my
feelings on the subject, and exclaimed in ecstasy, "I
have slept in a bed ! " At this the chief rabbi was
uncommonly pleased. He then sent for the school
precentor, and as soon as this man appeared he said to

him, " Go to the shop of , and get cloth for a suit

to this gentleman." Thereupon he turned to me and



yin Autohiflgraphy. 203

asked what sort of stufT I liked. Overpowered by the
feehng of gratitude and esteem for this excellent man I
could answer nothing. The tears streaming down my
cheeks served for my only answer.

The chief rabbi also ordered for me some new linen.
In two days everything was ready. Dressed in my new
linen and new suit I went to the chief rabbi. I was
going to express my gratitude to him, but could scarcely
get out a few broken words. For the chief rabbi this
was a charming sight. He waived my thanks, and said
that I was not to think too highly of him for this,
inasmuch as what he had done for me w^as a mere trifle
not worth mentioning.

Now the reader may perhaps suppose that this chief
rabbi was a wealthy man, for whom the expense to
which he put himself on my account was really a trifle ;
but I can give the assurance that this was far from being
the case. He had merely a moderate income ; and as
he occupied himself wholly with study, his wife had the
management of his affairs, and especially the charge of
housekeeping. Actions of this sort, therefore, had to be
done without the knowledge of his wife, and under the
pretext that he received from other people the money
for the purpose. Moreover, he lived a very temperate
life, fasted every day except Sabbath, and never ate
flesh the whole week through. Nevertheless, to satisfy
his benevolent inclinations he could not avoid making
debts. His severe manner of life, his many studies and



204



Solomon Maimon:



vigils, weakened his strength to such a degree that he
died about the thirty-sixth year of his life. His death
took place after he had been appointed chief rabbi in
Fordet, to which place he was followed by a large number
of disciples. I can never think of this godly man with-
out being deeply affected.

In my former lodging at the poor tailor's I had left
some trifles which I now went to fetch. The tailor, his
wife, and my former comrade in beggary, who had
already heard of the happy change in my affairs, expected
me with the greatest impatience. It was a touching
scene. The man, who three days before arrived in this
poor hut, quite debilitated, half naked, and barefoot,
whom the poor inmates of the house regarded as an
outcast of nature, and whose comrade in linen blouse
had looked down upon him with mockery and contempt,
— this man (his fame before him) now comes into the
same hut with a cheerful face, and in reverend garb
dressed as a chief rabbi.

They all testified their joy and surprise at the trans-
formation. The poor woman took her babe in her arms
and, with tears in her eyes, begged a blessing for him.
My comrade begged me very affectingly for forgiveness
on account of his rough treatment. He said that he
deemed himself fortunate in having had such a fellow-
traveller, but would hold himself unfortunate if I would
not forgive the faults he had committed in ignorance. I
spoke to them all very kindly, gave the little one my



An Autobiography. 205

blessing, handed to my old comrade all the cash I had
in my pocket, and went back deeply affected.

Meanwhile my fame was spread through the whole
town by the conduct towards me of the chief rabbi, as
well as that of my new host, who was himself a scholar,
and had formed a high opinion of my talents and learn-
ing from frequent conversations and discussions which
we had held together. All the scholars of the town,
therefore, came to see me and discuss with me as a
famous travelling rabbi ; and the more intimately they
came to know me, so much the higher rose their esteem.

This period was undoubtedly the happiest and most
honourable in my life. The young scholars of the town
passed a resolution at their meeting to make up for me a
salary, for which I was to deliver lectures to them on the
celebrated and profound work of Maimonides, Moreh
Nebhochim. This proposal, however, was never carried
out, because the parents of these young people were
anxious lest their children should be thereby led astray,
and by independent thinking on religion be made to
waver in their faith. They acknowledged indeed that,
with all my fondness for religious speculation, I was still
a pious man and an orthodox rabbi. But they could not
rely upon their children having sufficient judgment, to be
able to enter upon this course without passing from one
extreme to the other, from superstition to unbelief ; and
therein perhaps they were right.

After I had spent about four weeks in this way, the



2o6 Solomon MaUnon :

man, with whom I lodged, came to me, and said, "Herr
Solomon, allow me to make a proposal to you. If you
are inclined merely to solitary study, you may remain
here as long as you like. If, however, you do not wish
to withdraw into such complete retirement, but are
inclined to be of service to the world with your talents,
there is a wealthy man here — one of the most prominent
people of the town — who has an only son, and wishes
nothing so much as to have you for his tutor. This man
is my brother-in-law. If you will not do it for his sake,
please do it for mine, and to gratify the chief rabbi, as
he has deeply at heart the education of my nephew, who
is connected by marriage with his family." This offer I
accepted with delight. I came therefore into this family
under advantageous conditions as tutor, and remained
with them two years in the greatest honour. Nothing
was done in the house without my knowledge. I was
always met with the greatest respect. I was held in fact
to be almost something more than human.

Thus the two years flowed on imperceptibly and
happily for me. But during the time some little
incidents took place, which I believe should not be
altogether omitted in this history.

In the first place the esteem entertained for me in this
house went so far, that malgr'e moi they were going to
make me a prophet. My pupil was betrothed to the
daughter of a chief rabbi, who was a brother-in-law of
the chief rabbi in Posen. The bride, a girl of about



An Autobiography. to?

twelve years, was brought to Posen by her parcnts-in-law
at the feast of Pentecost. On the occasion of this visit
I observed that the girl was of a very phlegmatic
temperament and somewhat consumptive. I mentioned
this to the brother of my host, and added with a signifi-
cant look, that I was very anxious for the girl, as I did
not believe that her health would last long. After the
feast was over the girl was sent home, and a fortnight
afterwards a letter was received announcing her death.
On this account, not only in the house where I lived,
but in the whole town, I was taken for a prophet, who
had been able to foretell the death of this girl. As I
wished nothing less than to deceive, I endeavoured to
bring these superstitious people to a different train of
thought. I told them that anybody, who had made
observations in the world, would have been able to fore-
tell the same thing. But it was of no use. Once for all
I was a prophet, and had to remain one.

Another incident occurred in a Jewish house one
Friday when they were preparing fish for the Sabbath.
The fish was a carp, and it seemed to the cook who was
cutting it up as if it uttered a sound. This threw every-
body into a panic. The rabbi was asked what should
be done with this dumb fish that had ventured to speak.
Under the superstitious idea that the carp was possessed
with a spirit, the rabbi enjoined that it should be wrapped
in a linen cloth, and buried with pomp.

Now, in the house where I lived, this awe-inspiring



2o8 Solovioji Maiinon :

event became the subject of conversation. Having by
this time emancipated myself pretty thoroughly from
superstitions of this sort by diligent study of the Moreh
NebhocJiini, I laughed heartily over the story, and said,
that, if instead of burying the carp, they had sent it to
me, I should have tried how such an inspired carp would
taste.

This hon mot became known. The learned men fell
into a passion about it, denounced me as a heretic, and
sought to persecute me in every way. But the respect,
entertained for me in the house where I was tutor, made
all their efforts fruitless. As I found myself in this way
safe, and the spirit of fanaticism, instead of deterring me,
rather spurred me on to further reflection, I began to
push matters a little farther, frequently slept through the
time of prayer, went seldom to the synagogue, and so on.
At last the measure of my sins became so full, that
nothing could secure me any longer from persecution.

At the entrance to the Common Hall in Posen there
has been, no one knows for how long, a stag-horn fixed
into the wall. The Jews are unanimously of the convic-
tion, that any one who touches this horn is sure to die
on the spot ; and they relate a multitude of instances in
proof. This would not go down with me at all, and I
made fun of it. So one day when I was passing the stag-
horn with some other Jews, I said to them, "You Posen
fools, do you think that any one who touches this horn
must die on the spot? See, I dare to touch it!"



A /I Autobiography. 209

Horror-struck, they expected my death on the spot ; but
as nothing happened, their anxiety for mc was con-
verted into hatred. They looked on me as one who had
profaned the sanctuary.

This fanaticism stirred up in mc the desire to go to
Berhn, and destroy by enlightenment the remnant of
superstition which still clung to me. I therefore begged
leave of my employer. He expressed the wish indeed,
that I should remain longer in his house, and assured me
of his protection against all persecution. But as I had
once for all taken my resolution, I was determined not
to alter it. I therefore bade goodbye to my employer
and his whole family, took a seat on the Frankfurt post,
and set out for Berlin.



2IO



Solomon Maiinon



CHAPTER XXIII.



Arrival in Berlin— Acquaintances — Mendelssohn— Desperate Study
of Metaphysics — Doubts — Lectures on Locke and Adelung.



As I came to Berlin this time by post, I did not require
to remain outside the Rosenthaler Gate to be examined
by the Jewish elders ; I proceeded without any difficulty
into the city, and was allowed to take up my quarters
where I chose. To remain in the city, however, was a
different thing. The Jewish police-officers — L. M. of
those days was a terrible fellow, — went every day round
all the hotels and other houses designed for the reception
of strangers, made inquiry into the quality and occupa-
tion of newcomers, as well as the probable length of their
stay, and allowed them no rest till they had either found
some occupation in the city, or were out of it again, or
— the alternative goes without saying. I had taken a
lodging on the New Market with a Jew, who was accus-
tomed to receive in his house poor travellers that had
not much to spend, and who the following day received
a visit of this sort.

The Jewish police-officer, L. M., came and examined
me in the strictest manner. I told him that I wished to



An Autobiography. 2 1 1

enter into service as a family-tutor in Berlin, and that
therefore the length of my stay could not be exactly
determined. I appeared to him suspicious ; he believed
he had seen me here before, and evidently looked on me
as a comet, which comes nearer to the earth the second
time than the first, and so makes the danger more threat-
ing. But when he saw by me a Mil loth Higgayon or
Hebrew Logic, drawn up by Maimonides, and annotated
by Mendelssohn, he went into a perfect rage. " Yes ! yes ! "
he exclaimed, " that's the sort of books for me ! " and as
he turned to me with a threatening look, " Pack," he said,
" out of Berlin as quick as you can, if you don't wish to
be led out with all the honours ! " I trembled, and knew
not what to do ; but as I had learnt that there was a
Polish Jew, a man of talent, residing in Berlin for the
sake of study, and received with esteem in the best
families, I paid him a visit.

He received me as a countryman in a very friendly
manner, asked about my home in Poland, and what had
brought me to Berlin. When I told him in reply, that
from my childhood I had discovered an inclination to
the sciences, had already made myself acquainted with
this and that Hebrew work which touches upon these,
and now had come to Berlin in order to be Maamik
Bechochnah (to become absorbed in the sciences), he
smiled at this quaint rabbinical phrase, but gave me his
full approval ; and after conversing with me for some
time, he begged me to visit him often, which I very



2 1 2 Solomon Matmon :

willingly promised to do, and went away rejoicing in
spirit.

The very next day I visited my Polish friend again,
and found with him some young people belonging to a
prominent Jewish family, who visited him often, and
conversed with him on scientific subjects. They entered
into conversation with me, found much amusement in
my jargon, as well as in my simplicity and open-hearted-
ness ; in particular they laughed heartily at the phrase,
Maatnik Bechochmah, of which they had heard already.
All this gave me courage, and they assured me that I
should not find myself mistaken in the expectation of
being able to be Maamik Bechochmak in Berlin. And
when I made known my fear about the above-mentioned
police-officer, they made me pluck up courage by promis-
ing to obtain protection for me from their family, so that
I might remain in Berlin as long as I chose.

They kept their word, and Herr D P , a well-
to-do man of excellent character, of many attainments
and fine taste, who was an uncle of these young men,
not only paid me much attention, but also procured for
me a respectable lodging, and invited me to the Sabbath
dinner. Others of the family also sent me meals at my
room on fixed da)s. Among these was a brother of
these young men, in other respects an honourable man,
who was not without attainments. But as he was a
zealous Talmudist, he inquired earnestly whether with
my inclination towards the sciences I had not quite



A/i Autobiography. 213

neglected the Talmud ; and as soon as he learnt, that I
was so Maamik Bechochmah as to neglect the study of
the Talmud, he gave up sending me my meals.

As I now had permission to remain in Berlin, I thought
of nothing but how to carry my purpose into effect.
Accidentally one day I went into a butter-shop, and found
the dealer in the act of anatomising a somewhat old book
for use in his trade. I looked at it, and found, to my no
small astonishment, that it was \Volff's Metaphysics^ or
the Doctrifie of God^ of the Worlds and of Man's Soul, I
could not understand, how in a city so enlightened as
Berlin such important works could be treated in this
barbarous fashion. I turned therefore to the dealer, and
asked him, if he would not sell the book. He was ready
to part with it for two groschen. Without thinking long
about it I gave the price at once, and went home
delighted with my treasure.

At the very first reading I was in raptures with the
book. Not only this sublime science in itself, but also
the order and mathematical method of the celebrated
author, — the precision of his explanations, the exactness
of his reasoning, and the scientific arrangement of his
exposition, — all this struck a new light in my mind.

With the Ontology, the Cosmology, and the Psycho-
logy all went well ; but the Theology created many diffi-
culties, inasmuch as I found its dogmas, not only not in
harmony, but even in contradiction, with the preceding
propositions. At the very beginning I could not assent



214 Solomon Matmon:

to Wolff's argument a posteriori iox the existence of God
in accordance with the Principle of Sufficient Reason ;
and I raised the objection to it, that, inasmuch as, ac-
cording to Wolff's own confession, the Principle of
Sufficient Reason is abstracted from particular cases of
experience, the only point which can be proved by it is,
that every object of experience must have its sufficient
reason in some other object of experience, but not in an
object beyond all experience. I also compared these
new metaphysical doctrines with those of Maimonides,
or rather of Aristotle, which were already known to me ;
and I could not bring them into harmony at all.

I resolved therefore to set forth these doubts in the
Hebrew language, and to send what I wrote to Herr
Mendelssohn, of whom I had already heard so much.
When he received my communication, he was not a little
astonished at it, and replied to me at once, that in fact
my doubts were well founded, that I should not however
allow myself to be discouraged on their account, but
should continue to study with the zeal with which I had
begun.

Encouraged by this, I wrote in Hebrew a dissertation
in which I brought into doubt the foundations of Revealed
as well as of Natural Theology. All the thirteen articles
of faith, laid down by Maimonides, I attacked with philo-
sophical arguments, with the exception of one, namely
the article on reward and punishment, which I conceded
merely in its philosophical interpretation, as referring to



An Autobiography. 215

the natural consequences of voluntary actions. I sent
this dissertation to Mendelssohn, who was not a little
amazed, that a Polish Jew, who had scarcely got the
length of seeing the Metaphysics of Wolff, was already
able to penetrate into their depths so far, that he was in
a position to shake their results by means of a correct
Ontology. He invited me to visit him, and I accepted
his invitation. But I was so shy, the manners and
customs of the Berliners were so new to me, it was not
without fear and embarrassment, that I ventured to enter
a fashionable house. A\Tien therefore I opened Mendels-
sohn's door, and saw him and other gentlefolks who were
there, as well as the beautiful rooms and elegant furniture,
I shrank back, closed the door again, and had a mind
not to 2:0 in. Mendelssohn however had observed me.
He came out and spoke to me very kindly, led me into
his room, placed himself beside me at the window, and
paid me many compliments about my writing. He
assured me, that, if I went on in this way, I should in a
short time make great progress in Metaphysics ; and he
promised also to resolve my doubts. Not satisfied with
this, the worthy man looked after my maintenance also,
recommended me to the most eminent, enlightened and
wealthy Jews, who made provision for my board and
other wants. Their tables I was at liberty to enjoy
when I chose, and their libraries were open to my use.

Especially worthy of mention among these gentlemen
^vas H , a man of many attainments and excellent



2i6 Solomon Maimon :

disposition, who was a particular friend and disciple of
Mendelssohn. He took great pleasure in my conversa-
tion, often discussed with me the most important subjects
in Natural Theology and Morals, on which I expressed
my thoughts to him quite frankly and without disguise.
I went over with him in a conversational way all the
systems known to me that are generally denounced, and
defended them with the greatest pertinacity. He met
me with objections ; I answered them, and brought in
my turn objections against the opposite systems. At first
this friend regarded me as a speaking animal, and enter-
tained himself with me, as one is apt to do with a dog or
a starling that has been taught to speak a few words.
The odd mixture of the animal in my manners, my ex-
pressions, and my whole outward behaviour, with the
rational in my thoughts, excited his imagination more
than the subject of our conversation roused his under-
standing. By degrees the fun was turned to earnest. He
began to give his attention to the subjects themselves ;
and as, notwithstanding his other capabilities and attain-
ments, he had no philosophical head, and the liveliness
of his imagination generally interfered with the ripeness
of his judgment, the results of our conversations may be
readily imagined.

A few examples will be sufficient to give an idea of the
manner in which I conducted a discussion at the time,
of the ellipses in my diction arising from my deficiency
in expressions, and of the way in which I illustrated



An Autobiography. 2 \ 7

everything by examples. I endeavoured once to make
Spinoza's system intelligible, — to show that all things are
merely accidents of a single substance. My friend inter-
rupted me and said, " But, good heavens ! are not you
and I different men, and do we not each possess an
existence of our own ? " " Close the shutters," I called
in reply to his objection. This strange expression threw
him into astonishment ; he did not know what I meant.
At last I explained myself. " See," said I, " the sun
shines through the windows. This square window gives
you a square reflection, and the round window a round
reflection. Are they on that account different things,
and not rather one and the same sunshine ? "

On another occasion I defended Helvetius' system of
self-love. He brought against it the objection, that we
surely love other persons as well as ourselves. " For
instance," said he, " I love my wife;" and to confirm this
he gave her a kiss. " That proves nothing against me,"
I replied. " For, why do you kiss your wife ? Because
you find pleasure in doing it."

Herr A M also, a good honest fellow, and at

that time a wealthy man, allowed me free access to his
house. Here I found Locke in the German translation,
and I was pleased with him at the first hasty glance, for
I recognised him as the best of the modern philosophers,
as a man who had no interest but the truth. Accordingly

I proposed to the tutor of Herr A M , that he

should take lessons from me on this admirable work. At

p



2tS Solomon Maimon:

first he smiled at my simplicity in proposing, that I, who
had scarcely got the length of seeing Locke, should give
lessons to him whose native tongue was German, and
who had been brought up in the sciences. He acted,
however, as if he found nothing offensive in the matter,
accepted my proposal, and fixed an hour for the lessons.
I presented myself at the time appointed, and began the
lessons ; but as I could not read a word of German cor-
rectly, I told my pupil to read aloud paragraph by para-
graph in the text, and that then I should give him an ex-
position of each. My pupil, who pretended to be in
earnest, consented to this also, to carry on the joke ; but
how great was his astonishment when he found, that no
joke was to be played in the matter, that in fact my ex-
positions and remarks, though delivered in my own
peculiar language, evinced a genuine philosophical spirit.
It was still more amusing, when I became acquainted
with the family of Widow Levi, and made the proposal
to her son, the young Herr Samuel Levi,* who is still my
Maecenas, that he should take lessons from me in the
German language. The studious youth, incited by my
reputation, was resolved to make a trial, and wished me
to explain Adelung's German Gram7?iar. I, who had


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Online LibrarySalomon MaimonSolomon Maimon : an autobiography → online text (page 13 of 21)