Salomon Maimon.

Solomon Maimon : an autobiography online

. (page 2 of 21)
Online LibrarySalomon MaimonSolomon Maimon : an autobiography → online text (page 2 of 21)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

only after everything had become quiet again, and the
family had returned to the house, that the maid remem-
bered having lost me in the flight, when she began to
lament and wring her hands. They sought me every-
where, but could not find me, till at last the peasant
came from the village and restored me to my parents.

It was not merely the terror and consternation, into
which we used to be thrown on the occasion of such a

B



lo Solomon Maivion :

fliiiht ; to this was added the plundering of the house
when deprived of its inhabitants. Beer, brandy, and
mead were drunk at pleasure ; the spirit of revenge even
went so far at times, that the casks were left to run out ;
corn and fowls were carried off; and so forth.

Had my grandfather, instead of seeking justice from a
more powerful litigant, rather borne the injustice, and
built the bridge in question at his own expense, he would
have been able to avoid all these evils. He appealed,
however, persistently to the terms of his lease, and the
steward made sport of his misery.

And now something about my grandfather's domestic
economy. The manner of life, which he led in his
house, was quite simple. The annual produce of the
arable lands, pasture-lands, and kitchen-gardens, belong-
ing to the farm, was sufficient, not only for the wants of
his own family, but also for brewing and distilling. He
could even, besides, sell a quantity of grain and hay.
His bee-hives were sufficient for the brewing of mead.
He had also a large number of cattle.

The principal food consisted of a poor kind of corn-
bread mixed with bran, of articles made of meal and
milk, and of the produce of the garden, seldom of flesh-
meat. The clothing was made of poor linen and coarse
stuff. Only the women made in these matters a slight
exception, and my father also, who was a scholar, required
a different sort of life.

Hospitality was here carried very far. The Jews in



An AutohiograpJiy. ii

this neighbourhood are continually moving al)out from
place to place; and as there was a great traffic at our
village, they were frequently passing through it, and of
course they had always to stop at my grandfather's inn.
Every Jewish traveller was met at the door with a glass
of spirits ; one hand making the salaam* while the other
reached the glass. He then had to wash his hands, and
seat himself at the table which remained constantly
covered.

The support of a numerous family along with this
hospitality would have had no serious effect in impairing
my grandfather's circumstances, if at the same time he
had introduced a better economy in his house. This,
however, was the source of his misfortune.

My grandfather was in trifles almost too economical,
and neglected therefore matters of the greatest import-
ance. He looked upon it, for example, as extravagance
to burn wax or tallow candles ; their place had to be
supplied with thin strips of resinous pine, one end of
which was stuck into the chinks of the wall, while the
other was lit. Not unfrequently by this means fires were
occasioned, and much damage caused, in comparison
with which the cost of candles was not worth taking into
consideration.

The apartment, in which beer, spirits, mead, herrings,
salt and other articles were kept for the daily account of

* The customary Jewish salutation.



12



Sfl/o;no?i Maimoii :



the inn, had no windows, but merely apertures, through
which it received hght. Naturally this often tempted the
sailors and carriers who put up at the inn to climl) into
the apartment, and make themselves drunk gratuitously
with spirits and mead. AVhat was still worse, these
carousing heroes, from fear of being caught in the act,
often took to flight, on hearing the slightest noise, with-
out waiting to put in the spigot, sprang out at the holes
by which they had come in, and let the liquor run as long
as it might. In this way sometimes whole casks of
spirits and mead ran out.

The barns had no proper locks, but were shut merely
with wooden bolts. Any one therefore, especially as the
barns were at some distance from the dw^elling-house,
could take from them at pleasure, and even carry off
whole waggonloads of grain. The sheepfold had, all
over, holes, by which wolves (the forest being quite near)
were able to slink in, and worry the sheep at their con-
venience.

The cows came very often from the pasture with empty

udders. According to the superstition which prevailed

there, it was said in such cases, that tlic milk had been

» taken from them by witchcraft, — a misfortune, against

which it was supposed that nothing could be done.

My grandmother, a good simple woman, when tired
wilhi her household occupations, lay down often in her
clothes to sleep by the stove, and had all her pockets
full of money, without knowing how much. Of this the



An Autobiography. 13

housemaid took advantage, and emptied the pockets of

half their contents. Nevertheless my grandmother
seldom perceived the want, if only the girl did not play
too clumsy a trick.

All these evils could easily have been avoided of
course by repairing the buildings, the windows, the
window-shutters and locks, by proper oversight of the
manifold lucrative occupations connected with the farm,
as also by keeping an exact account of receipts and dis-
bursements. But this was never thought of. On the
other hand, if my father, who was a scholar, and educa-
ted partly in town, ordered for himself a rabbinical suit,
for which a finer stuff was required than that in common
use, my grandfather did not fail to give him a long and
severe lecture on the vanity of the world. " Our fore-
fathers," he used to say, "knew nothing of these new-
fashioned costumes, and yet were devout people. You
must have a coat of striped woolen cloth,* you must
have leather hose, with buttons even, and everything on
the same scale. You will bring me to beggary at last ; I
shall be thrown into prison on your account. Ay me,
poor unfortunate man ! AVhat is to become of me ? "

My father then appealed to the rights and privileges of
the profession of a scholar, and showed moreover that.



* The original is "ein Kalamankenes Leibserdak,"— a provin-
cialism which, I believe, is substantially rendered in this transla-
tion. — Trans.



I A Solomon Maiino7i :

in a well-arranged system of economy, it does not so
much matter whether you live somewhat better or worse,
and that even my grandfather's misfortunes arose, not
from extravagant consumption in housekeeping, but
rather from the fact that he allowed himself by his re-
missness to 1)0 plundered by others. All this however
was of no avail with my grandfather. He could not
tolerate innovations. Everything therefore had to be
left as it was.

My grandfather was held in the place of his abode to
be a rich man, which he could really have been if he had
known how to make use of his opportunities ; and on this
account he was envied and hated by all, even by his own
family, he was abandoned by his landlord, he was op-
pressed in every possible way by the steward, and cheated
and robbed by his own domestics as well as by strangers.
In short, he was the poorest rich ina7i in the world.

In addition to all this there were still greater misfor-
tunes, which I cannot here pass over wholly in silence.
The pope, that is, the Russian clergyman in this village,
was a dull ignorant blockhead, who had scarcely learned
to read and write. He spent most of his time at the inn,
where he drank spirits with his boorish parishioners, and
let his liquor always be put down to his account, without
ever a thought of paying his score. My grandfather at
last became tired of this, and made up his mind to give
him nothing more upon credit. The fellow naturally
took this very ill, and therefore resolved upon revenge.



\



An Autobiography. 15

For this he found at length a means, at which indeed
humanity shudders, but of which the CathoHc Christians
in Poland were wont to make use very often at that time.
This was to charge my grandfather with the murder of a v
Christian, and thus bring him to the gallows. This was
done in the following way : A beaver-trapper, who so-
journed constantly in this neighbourhood to catch
beavers on the Niemen, was accustomed at times to trade
in these animals with my grandfather ; and this had to
be done secretly, for the beaver is game preserved, and
all that are taken must be delivered at the manor. The
trapper came once about midnight, knocked and asked
for my grandfather. He showed him a bag which was
pretty heavy to lift, and said to him with a mysterious
air, " I have brought you a good big fellow here." My
grandfather was going to strike a light, to examine the
beaver, and come to terms about it with the peasant.
He however said, that this was unnecessar)-, that my
grandfather might take the beaver at any rate, and that
they would be sure to agree about it afterwards. My
grandfather, who had no suspicion of evil, took the bag
just as it was, laid it aside, and betook himself again to
rest. Scarcely, however, had he fallen asleep again, when
he was roused a second time with a loud noise of
knocking.

It was the clergyman with some boors from the village,
who immediately began to make search all over in the
house. They found the bag, and my grandfather already



1 6 Solomon Maimon :

trembled for the issue, because he believed nothing else
than that he had been betrayed at the manor on account
of his secret trade in beavers, and he could not deny the
fact. But how great was his horror, when the bag was
opened, and, instead of a beaver, there was found a
corpse !

My grandfather was ])ound with his hands behind his
back, his feet were put into stocks, he was thrown into a
waggon, and brought to the town of Mir, wdiere he was
given over to the criminal court. He was made fast in
chains, and put into a dark prison.

At the trial my grandfather stood upon his innocence,
related the events exactly as they had happened, and, as
was reasonable, demanded that the beaver-trapper should
be examined too. He, however, was nowhere to be
found, was already over the hills and far away. He w^as
sought everywhere. But the blood-thirsty judge of the
criminal court, to whom the time became tedious,
ordered my grandfather three times in succession to be
brought to torture. He, however, continued steadfast
in his assertion.

At last the hero of the beavers was found. He was
examined; and as he straightway denied the whole affair,
he also was put to the test of torture. Thereupon at
once he blabbed the whole story. He declared that,
some time before, he had found this dead body in the
water, antl was going to bring it to the parsonage for
burial. The parson however had said to him, "There is



An Autobiography. 17

plenty of time for the burial. You know that the Jews
are a hardened race, and are therefore damned to all
eternity. They crucified our Lord Jesus Christ, and
even yet they seek Christian blood, if only they can get
hold of it for their passover, which is instituted as a sign
of their triumph. They use it for their passover-cake.
You will therefore do a meritorious work, if you can
smuggle this dead body into the house of the damned
Jew of a farmer. You must of course clear out, but
your trade you can drive anywhere."

On this confession the fellow was whipped out of the
place, and my grandfather set free; but the pope re-
mained pope.

For an everlasting memorial of this deliverance of my
grandfather from death, my father composed in Hebrew
a sort of epopee, in which the whole event was narrated,
and the goodness of God was sung. It was also made a
law, that the day of his deliverance should be celebrated
in the family every year, when this poem should be
recited in the same way as the Book of Esther at the
festival of Haman.*



* Till quite recently it had been almost forgotten that one of the
commonest manifestations of fanaticism against the Jews, especially
in Er.stern Europe, was to charge them with the murder of Christian
children for the use of some horrid religious rite, and that scarcely
ever was the dead body of a child found in the neighbourhood of a
Jewish community without some outburst of this cruel suspicion,
ending in an indiscriminate massacre of the Jews by the infuriated



1 8 Solomon Maimon :

mob. It is a singularly creditable proof of the liberal government
of Stephen Batory, — one of the ablest monarchs who ever sat on
the throne of Poland, —that, so long ago as 1576, he issued an edict
prohibiting the imputation of this crime to the Jews, as being
utterly inconsistent with the principles of their religion. Yet, in
spite of this enactment, the fanatical suspicion continued to display
itself at frequent intervals. Milman supposed it had been finally
quelled by the ukase of the Russian Government in 1835, which
went in the same direction as the earlier prohibition of the Polish
king {History of iJie Je7vs, vol. iii., p. 389). What would have
been his astonishment, had he lived to learn that, half a century
after he thought it extinguished, this ancient delusion was to revive,
that an Hungarian court was to spend thirty one days in the solemn
trial of a Jewish family on the charge of sacrificing a Christian girl
in their synagogue, that a learned professor in the Imperial and
Royal University of Prague was to write in defence of the charge,
and that the trial was to form the subject of an extensive contro-
versial literature in the language of the most learned nation in the
world ! An interesting account of this famous trial at Tisza Eszlar,
as well as of the literature connected with it, will be found in an
article by Dr. Wright, on The Jews and the Malicious Charge of
Jill man Sacrifice in the Nineteenth Century, for November, 1883.
— Trans.



A?i Autobiography. 19



CHAPTER II.



First Reminiscences of Youth.



In this manner my grandfather Hved for many years in
the place where his forefathers had dwelt ; his farm had
become, as it were, a property of the family. By the
Jewish ceremonial law the Chazakah, that is, the right
of property in an estate, is acquired by three years'
possession ; and the right is respected even by Christians
in this neighbourhood. In virtue of this law no other
Jew could try to get possession of the farm by a
Hosaphah, that is, an offer of higher rent, if he would
not bring down upon himself the Jewish excommunica-
tion. Although the possession of the farm was accom-
panied with many hardships and even oppressions, yet it
was from another point of view very lucrative. My
grandfather could not only live as a well-to-do man, but
also provide richly for his children.

His three daughters were well dowered, and married
to excellent men. His two sons, my uncle Moses and
my father Joshua, were married likewise ; and when he
became old, and enfeebled by the hardships to which he
had been exposed, he gave over the management of the



20 Solomon Maimoti :

house to his two sons in common. These were of
different temperaments and incHnations, my uncle Moses
being of strong bodily constitution, but inferior intelli-
gence, while my father was the opposite ; and conse-
quently they could not work together well. My grand-
father therefore gave over to my uncle another village,
and kept my father by himself, although from his
profession as a scholar my father was not particularly
adapted for the occupations of household-management.
He merely kept accounts, made contracts, conducted
processes at law, and attended to other matters of the
same sort. My mother, on the other hand, was a very
lively woman, well disposed to all sorts of occupations.
She was small of stature, and at that time still very young.
An anecdote I cannot avoid touching on here, because
it is the earliest reminiscence from the years of my youth.
I was about three years old at the time. The merchants,
who put up constantly at the place, and especially the
Shaffers, that is, the nobles who undertook the navigation,
the purchase and delivery of goods, for the higher nobi-
lity, were extremely fond of me on account of my liveli-
ness, and made all sorts of fun with me. These merry
gentlemen gave my mother, on account of her small
stature and liveliness, the nickname of Kitza, that is, a
young filly.* As I heard them often call her by this

* It seems tlial Mainion gives a euphemistic explanation of this
word, as I am told its real meaning makes much more intelligible its
extreme olTcnsiveness to his mother. — Trajan.



An Autobiography. 21

name, and knew nothing of its meaning, I also called her
Mama Ktiza. My mother rebuked me for this, and
said, " God punishes any one who calls his mother
Afama KuzaT One of these Shaffers, Herr Piliezki,
used every day to take tea in our house, and enticed me
to his side by giving me at times a bit of sugar. One
morning while he was drinking his tea, when I had
placed myself in the usual position for receiving the
sugar, he said he would give it to me only on condition
that I should say Mama Kuza. Now as my mother was
present, I refused to do it. He made a sign therefore
to my mother to go into an adjoining room. As soon
as she had shut the door, I went to him and whispered
into his ear. Mama Kuza. He insisted however that I
should say it out loud, and promised to give me a piece
of sugar for each time that it was spoken. Accordingly
I said, " Herr Piliezki wants me to say Mama Kuza ;
but I will not say Mama Kuza., because God punishes
any one who says Matna Kuza." Thereupon I got my
three pieces of sugar.

My father introduced into the house a more refined
mode of life, especially as he traded with Konigsberg in
Prussia, where he procured all sorts of pretty and useful
articles. He provided himself with tin and brass
utensils ; we began to have better meals, to wear finer
clothes, than before ; I was even clad in damask.



22



Solomon Maimon :



CHAPTER III.

Private Education and Independent Study.

In my sixth year my father began to read the Bible with
me. "In the beginning God created the heaven and
the earth." Here I interrupted my father, and asked,
" But, papa, who created God ? "

"God was not created by any one," repHed my father;
" He existed from all eternity."

" Did he exist ten years ago ?" I asked again.

" O yes," my father said, " He existed even a hundred
years ago."

" Then perhaps," I continued, " God is already a
thousand years old ?"

" Silence ! God was eternal."

" But," I insisted, " He must surely have been born at
some time."

" You little fool," said my father, " No ! He was for
ever and ever and ever."

With this answer I was not indeed satisfied; but I
thought " Surely papa must know better than I, and with
that I must therefore be content."



A?i Autobiography. 23

This mode of representation is very natural in early
youth, when the understanding is still undeveloped, while
the imagination is in full bloom. The understanding
seeks merely to grasp, the imagination to grasp all round.*
That is to say, the understanding seeks to make the
origin of an object conceivable, without considering,
whether the object, whose origin is known, can also be
actually represented by us or not. The imagination, on
the other hand, seeks to gather into a complete image
something, the origin of which is to us unknown. Thus,
for example, an infinite series of numbers, which pro-
gresses according to a definite law, is for the under-
standing an object, to which by this law definite qualities
are attached, and an object just as good as a finite series,
which progresses according to the same law. For the
imagination, on the other hand, the latter indeed is an
object ; but not the former, because it cannot grasp the
former as a completed whole.

A long time afterwards, when I was staying in Breslau,
this consideration suggested to me a thought, which I
expressed in an essay that I laid before Professor Garv^e,
and which, though at the time I knew nothing of the
Kantian philosophy, still constitutes its foundation. I
explained this somewhat in the following way : — The
metaphysicians necessarily fall into self-contradiction.



* The original runs : " Der Verstand sucht bloss z\x fassen, die
Einbildungskraft aber zu uinfassen.'" — Tr.



V



24 Solomon Mai man :

According to the confession of Lcil:)nitz himself, who in
this appeals to tlie experiment of Archimedes with the
lever, the Law of Sufficient Reason or Causality is a
principle of experience. Now, it is quite true that in
experience everything is found to have a cause ; but for
the very reason, that every thing has a cause, nothing
can be met with in experience which is :i first cause, that
is, a cause which has no cause to itself. How then can
the metaphysicians infer from this law the existence of a
first cause?

Afterwards I found this objection more particularly
developed in the Kantian philosophy, where it is shown
that the Category of Cause, or the form of hypothetical
judgments used in reference to the objects of nature, by
which their relation to one another is determined a
priori^ can be applied only to objects of experience
through an a priori schema. The first cause, which
implies a complete infinite series of causes, and therefore
in fact a contradiction, since the infinite can never be
complete, is not an object of the understanding, but an
idea of reason, or, according to my theory, a fiction of
'/ the imagination, which, not content with the mere know-
ledge of the law, seeks to gather the multiplicity, which
is subject to the law, into an image, though in opposition
to the law itself.

On another occasion I read in the Bible the story of
Jacob and Esau ; and in this connection my father quoted
the passage from the Talmud, where it is said, "Jacob



An Autobiography. 25

and Esau divided between them all the blessings of the
world. Esau chose the blessings of this life, Jacob, on
the contrary, those of the future life ; and since we are
descended from Jacob, we must give up all claim to tem-
poral blessings." On this I said with indignation,
" Jacob should not have been a fool ; he should rather
have chosen the blessings of this world." Unfortunately
I got for answer, "You ungodly rascal ! " and a box on
the ear. This did not of course remove my doubt, but
it brought me to silence at least.

The Prince Radzivil, who was a great lover of the
chase, came one day with his whole court to hunt in the
neighbourhood of our village. Among the party was his
dausfhter who afterwards married Prince Rawuzki. The
young princess, in order to enjoy rest at noon, betook
herself with the ladies of her court, the servants in waiting
and the lackeys, to the very room, where as a boy I was
sitting behind the stove. I was struck with astonishment
at the magnificence and splendour of the court, gazed
with rapture at the beauty of the persons and at the
dresses with their trimmings of gold and silver lace ; I
could not satisfy my eyes with the sight. ^ly father
came just as I was out of myself with joy, and had broken
into the words, ''O how beautiful ! " In order to calm
me, and at the same time to confirm me in the principles
of our faith, he whispered into my ear, " Little fool, in
the other world the duksel\s\\\ kindle \^^ pezsiire for us,"
which means. In the future life the princess will kindle

c



26 Solomon Maimon :

the stove for us. No one can conceive the sort of feel-
ing which this statement produced in me. On the one
hand, I beheved my father, and was very glad about this
future happiness in store for us ; but I felt at the same
time pity for the poor princess who was going to be
doomed to such a degrading service. On the other hand,
I could not get it into my head, that this beautiful rich
princess in this splendid dress should ever make a fire
for a poor Jew. I was thrown into the greatest perplexity
on the subject, till some game drove these thoughts out
of my head.

I had from childhood a great inclination and talent for
drawing. True, I had in my father's house never a
chance of seeing a work of art, but I found on the title-
page of some Hebrew books woodcuts of foliage, birds
and so forth. I felt great pleasure in these woodcuts,
and made an effort to imitate them with a bit of chalk or
charcoal. What however strengthened this inclination
in me still more was a Hebrew book of fables, in which
the personages who play their part in the fables — the
animals — were represented in such woodcuts. I copied
all the figures with the greatest exactness. My father


2 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21

Online LibrarySalomon MaimonSolomon Maimon : an autobiography → online text (page 2 of 21)