Salomon Maimon.

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52 Solomo7i Maiuion :

Some time afterwards another matrimonial proposal

for mc turned up. Mr. L of Schmilowitz, a learned

and at the same time a rich man, who had an only
daughter, was so enchanted with my fame, that he chose
y me for his son-in-law without having seen me before.
He be^an by entering into correspondence with my
fiUher on the subject, and left it to him to prescribe the
conditions of the union. My father answered his letter
in lofty style, made up of Biblical verses and passages
from the Talmud, in which he expressed the conditions
briefly by means of the following verses from the Canticles,
" The thousand gulden are for thee, O Solomon, and the
two hundred for those who keep his fruits." "^ Consent
was given to everything.

My father accordingly made a journey to Schmilowitz,
saw his future daughter-in-law, and had the marriage-
contract drawn in accordance with the terms agreed
upon. Two hundred gulden were paid to him on the
spot. With this, however, he was not content, but
insisted that in his letter he had been obliged to limit
himself to two hundred gulden merely for the sake of the

* Evidently viii., 12, rendered in our Authorised Version, " Thou,
O Solomon, must have a thousand (pieces of silver), and those that
keep the fruit thereof two hundred." Maimon translates apparently
from memory, " Die tausend Gulden sind filr dich, Salomo, und
die Zweihundert fiir die, die seine Friichte bewahren." In my
rendering of this the pronoun "his " must be understood in its old
English latitude as either neuter or masculine. — Trans,

A/i Autobiography. 63

beautiful verse which he did not wish to spoil ; but he
would not enter into the transaction at all unless he
received for himself twice two hundred gulden (fifty
thalers in Polish money). They had therefore to pay
him two hundred gulden more, and to hand over to him
the so-called little presents for me, namely, a cap of black
velvet trimmed with gold lace, a Bible bound in green
velvet with silver clasps, etc. With these things he came
home full of joy, gave me the presents, and told me that
I was to prepare myself for a disputation to be held on
my marriage day, which would be in two months' time.

Already my mother had begun to bake the cakes she
was expected to take with her to the wedding, and to
prepare all sorts of preserves ; I began also to think
about the disputation I was to hold, when suddenly the
mournful news arrived that my bride had died of
smallpox. My father could easily reconcile himself to
this loss, because he thought to himself that he had
made fifty thalers by his son in an honourable way, and
that now he could get fifty thalers for him again. I also,
who had never seen my bride, could not particularly
mourn her loss ; I thought to myself, " The cap and the
silver-clasped Bible are already mine, and a bride will
also not be awanting long, while my disputation can
serve me again." My mother alone was inconsolable
about this loss. Cakes and preserves are of a perishable
nature and will not keep long. The labour which my
mother had expended was therefore rendered fruitless by

(34 Solomon Maimoii :

this fatal accident ; and to this must be added, that she
could find no place to keep the delicious cakes from my
secret attacks.

An Autobiography. O5


I become an object of contention, get two wives at once, and am
kidnapped at last.

Meanwhile the domestic circumstances of my father
became every day worse. He saw himself, therefore,
compelled to make a journey to the town of Nesvij, and
apply for a position as teacher there, whither I also had
to follow him. Here he opened under favourable con-
ditions a school of his own, in which he could employ
me as assistant.

A widow, celebrated for her superior talents, as well
as for her Xanthippe-like character, kept a public-house
at the extremity of one of the suburbs. She had a
daughter who yielded to her in none of the above-
mentioned quaUties, and who was indispensable to her
in the management of the house. Madam Rissia, (this
was the widow's name), excited by my constantly in-
creasing reputation, fixed on me as a husband for her
daughter Sarah. Her family represented to her the
impossibility of carrying out this plan ; first, my father's
pride, and the demands which he would therefore make,
and which she could never satisfy ; then my fame, which
had already excited the attention of the most prominent

06 Solomon Mavnon :

and wealthy people of the town ; and finally, the
moderate character of her own fortune, which was far
from sufficient to carry out such a proposal. All these
representations, however, were of no avail with her. She
liad once for all taken it into her head, to have me for a
son-in-law, let it cost her what it might ; and she
thought, the devil would needs be in it, if she could not
get the young man.

She sent a proposal to my father, let him have no rest
thi whole time he was in the town, discussed the matter
with him herself on various occasions, and promised to
satisfy all his demands. My father, however, sought to
gain time for deliberation, and to put off the question
for a while. But the time came when we were to return
home. My father went with me to the widow's house,
which was the last on our road, in order to wait for a
conveyance which started from that place. Madam
Rissia made use of the opportunity, began to caress me,
introduced my bride, and asked me how I was pleased
with her. At last she pressed for a decisive answer
from my father. He was still always holding back, how-
ever, and sought in every possible way to represent the
difficulties connected with the subject.

While they were thus treating with one another, sud-
denly there burst into the room the chief rabbi, the
preacher, and the elders of the place, with many of the
most respectable people. This sudden appearance was
brought about without any magic in the following way.

An Autobiography. 67

1'hese gentlemen had been invited to a circumcision at
the house of a prominent man in this very suburb.
Madam Rissia, who knew this very well, sent her son
at once to the liouse with an invitation to the whole
company to come, immediately after rising from table, to
a betrothal at her house. They came therefore half
intoxicated ; and as they believed nothing else than that
all the preliminaries of the marriage — contract had been
settled, and that nothing was awanting but to write out
and subscribe the contract, they sat down to table, set
my father in the midst, and the chief rabbi began to
dictate the contract to the scribe of the community.

My father assured them that on the main point nothing
had yet been decided, and that still less had the pre-
liminary articles been settled. The chief rabbi fell into
a passion at this, for he supposed that it was only a
quibble, and that his sacred person and the whole
honourable company were being made sport of. He
turned therefore to the company, and said with a
haughty air, " Who is this Rabbi Joshua, who makes
himself of so much consequence?" My father rei)lied,
" The Rabbi is here superfluous. I am, 'tis true, a
common man ; but I believe, no man can dispute my
right to care for the welfare of my son, and to place his
future happiness on a firm footing."

The chief rabbi was greatly offended with the ambi-
guity of the expression, '■ The Rabbi is here superfluous."
He saw clearly that he had no right to lay down laws to

68 Solomon Maimon :

my father in the matter, and that it was a piece of
rashness on the part of Madam Rissia to invite a
company to a betrothal before the parties were agreed
on the preliminary articles. He began therefore to
strike a lower tone. He represented to my father the
advantages of this match, the high ancestry of the bride,
(lier grandfather, father, and uncle, having been learned
men, and chief rabbis), her personal attractions, and the
willingness and ability of Madam Rissia to satisfy all
his demands.

My father, who in fact had nothing to say against all
this, was compelled to yield. The marriage-contract
was made out, and in it Madam Rissia made over to
her daughter her public-house with all its belongings as
a bridal portion, and came under an obligation also to
board and clothe the newly-married couple for six years.
Besides I received as a present the entire work of the
Talmud with its appurtenances, together worth two or
three hundred thalers,* and a number of other gifts.
My father came under no obligation at all, and in addi-
tion received fifty thalers in cash. Very wisely he had
refused to accept a bill for this sum ; it had to be paid
to him before the betrothal.

* The bulk of the gift explains its costliness. " The Babylonian
Talnuid is about four times as large as that of Jerusalem. Its thirty-
six treatises now cover, in our editions, printed with the most
prominent commentaries (Rashi and Tosafoth), exactly 2947 folio
leaves in twelve folio volumes." (E. Deutsch's Literary Remains,
p. 41). — Trans.

A /I AutobiograpJiy. 69

After all this had been arranged, there was a capital
entertainment, and the brandy bottle was vigorously
plied. The very next day my father and I went home.
My mother-in-law i^romised to send after us as soon as
possible the so-called little presents and the articles of
clothing for me, which in the hurry she had not been
able to get ready. Many weeks however passed without
our hearing or seeing anything of these. My father was
perplexed about this ; and as the character of my mother-
in-law had long been suspicious to him, he could think
nothing else than that this intriguing woman was seeking
some subterfuge to escape from her burdensome contract.
He resolved therefore to repay like with like.

The following circumstance strengthened him in this
resolve. A rich arendant, w^ho used to bring spirits to
Nesvij for sale, and to lodge in our house on his journey
through Mohilna, likewise cast his eye upon me. He
had an only daughter, for whom he fixed on me in his
thoughts as a husband. He knew however what diffi-
culties he would have to overcome, if he were to treat
on the subject directly with my father. He chose there-
fore an indirect way. His plan was to make my father
his debtor ; and as his critical circumstances would make
it impossible for him to clear off the debt, he expected
to force him, as it were, to consent to this union with
the view of wiping out the debt by means of the amount
stipulated for the son. He offered my father therefore

70 Solomon Maitjwn :

some barrels of spirits on credit, and the offer was
accepted with delight.

As the date of payment approached, Hersch Dukor
(this was the name of the arendant) came and reminded
my father. The latter assured him, that at the moment
he was not in a position to clear off the debt, and begged
him to have patience with him for some time yet.
" Herr Joshua," said the arendant, " I will speak with
you quite frankly on this matter. Your circumstances
are growing daily worse ; and if no fortunate accident
occurs, I do not see any possibility of your being able to
clear off your debt. The best thing for us both therefore
is this. You have a son, and I have a daughter who is
the sole heiress of all my property. Let us enter into
an alliance. By this means not only will your debt be
wiped out, but a sum to be fixed by yourself w^ill be
paid in addition, and I shall take a general care to im-
prove your circumstances so far as hes in my power."

No one could be more joyous over this proposal than
my father. Immediately a contract was closed, in
which the bride's dowry, as well as the required presents,
was decided in accordance with my father's suggestion.
The bill for the debt, which amounted to fifty thalers in
Polish money, was returned to my father, and torn on
the spot, while fifty thalers in addition were paid to him.

Thereupon my new father-in-law went on to Nesvij to
collect some debts there. Unfortunately he had to
lodge at my former mother-in-law's. She, being a great

An Autobiography. 71

prattler, told him of her own accord about the good
match which her daughter had made. " The father of
the bridegroom," said she, " is himself a great scholar,
and the bridegroom is a young man of eleven years, who
has scarcely his equal."

" I also," replied the arendant, " have, thank God,
made a good choice for my daughter. You have per-
haps heard of the celebrated scholar. Rabbi Joshua, in
Mohilna, and of his young son, Solomon : he is my
daughter's bridegroom."

Scarcely had these words been spoken, when she
cried out, " That is a confounded lie. Solomon is my
daughter's bridegroom ; and here, sir, is the marriage-

The arendant then showed her his contract too ; and
they fell into a dispute, the result of which was that
Madam Rissia had my father summoned before the
court to give a categorical explanation. My father,
however, did not put in an appearance, although she had
him summoned twice.

Meanwhile my mother died, and was brought to
Nesvij for burial. My mother-in-law obtained from the
court an attachment on the dead body, by which its
interment was interdicted till the termination of the suit.
My father therefore saw himself compelled to appear in
court, my mother-in-law of course gained the suit, and I
became again the bridegroom of my former bride. And
now to prevent any similar reversal of her plans in the

72 Solotfion Maimon :

future, and to take from my father all occasion for it,
my mother-in-law endeavoured to satisfy all his demands
in accordance with her promise, clothed me from top to
toe, and even paid my father for my board from the date
of the betrothal to the marriage. My mother' also was
now buried, and we returned home again.

My second father-in-law came too, and called upon
my father for the ratification of his contract. He how-
ever pointed out that it was null and void, as it contra-
vened a previous contract, and had been made by him
merely in the supposition that my mother-in-law had no
intention of fulfilling hers. The arendant seemed to give
an ear to these representations, to yield to necessity, and
reconcile himself to his loss; but in reality he was
thinking of some means to get me into his hands.
Accordingly he rose by night, yoked his horses, took me
in silence from the table on which I was sleeping,
packed me with all despatch into his carriage, and made
off with his booty out at the gate. But as this could not
be accomplished without some noise, the people in the
house awoke, discovered the theft, pursued the kidnap-
per, and snatched me out of his hand. To me the
whole incident appeared at the time like a dream.

In this way my father was released from his debt, and
got fifty thalers besides as a gratuity ; but I was
immediately afterwards carried off by my legal mother-
in-law, and made the husband of my legal bride. I must
of course confess that this transaction of my father's

An Autobiography. 73

cannot be quite justified in a moral point of view. Only
his great need at the time can in some measure serve as
an excuse.

74 Solomon Maivion:


My Marriage in my Eleventh Year makes me the Slave of my
Wife, and procures for me Cudgellings from my Mother-in-
law — A Ghost of Flesh and Blood.

On the first evening of my marriage my father was not
present. As he told me at my departure that he had
still to settle some articles on my account, and therefore
I was to wait for his arrival, I refused, in spite of all the
efforts that were made, to appear that evening. Never-
theless the marriage festivities went on. We waited the
next day for my father, but still he did not come. They
then threatened to bring a party of soldiers to drag me
to the marriage ceremony ; but I gave them for an
answer, that, if this were done, it would help them little,
for the ceremony would not be lawful except as a
voluntary act. At last, to the joy of all interested, my
father arrived towards evening, the articles referred to
were amended, and the marriage ceremony was per-

Here I must mention a little anecdote. I had read
in a Hebrew book of an approved plan for a husband to
secure lordship over his better half for life. He was to

An Autobiography. 75

tread on her foot at the marriage ceremony ; and if both
hit on the stratagem, the first to succeed would retain
the upper hand. Accordingly, when my bride and I
were placed side by side at the ceremony this trick
occurred to me, and I said to myself, Now you must not
let the opportunity pass of securing for your whole life-
time lordship over your wife. I was just going to tread
on her foot, but a certain Je ne sais quoi^ whether fear,
shame, or love, held me back. While I was in this
irresolute state, all at once I felt the slipper of my wife
on my foot with such an impression that I should almost
have screamed aloud if I had not been checked by
shame. I took this for a bad omen and said to myself,
Providence has destined you to be the slave of your wife,
you must not try to slip out of her fetters. From my
faint-heartedness and the heroic mettle of my wife, the
reader may easily conceive why this prophecy had to be
actually realised.

I stood, however, not only under the slipper of my
wife, but — what was very much worse — under the lash
of my mother-in-law. Nothing of all that she had
promised was fulfilled. Her house, which she had
settled on her daughter as a dowry, w^as burdened with
debt. Of the six years' board which she had promised
me I enjoyed scarcely half a year's, and this amid
constant brawls and squabbles. She even, trusting to
my youth and want of spirit, ventured now and then to
lay hands on me, but this I repaid not infrequently with

76 Solomon Maimon:

compound interest. Scarcely a meal passed during
which we did not fling at each other's head, bowls,
plates, spoons, and similar articles.

Once I came home from the academy extremely
hungry. As my mother-in-law and wife w^ere occupied
with the business of the public house, I went myself into
the room where the milk was kept ; and as I found a dish
of curds and cream, I fell upon it, and began to eat. My
mother-in-law came as I was thus occupied, and screamed
in rage, "You are not going to devour the milk with the
cream ! " The more cream the better, thought I, and
went on eating, without disturbing myself by her cry.
She was going to wrest the dish forcibly from my hands,
beat me with her fists, and let me feel all her ill-will.
Exasperated by such treatment, I pushed her from me,
seized the dish, and smashed it on her head. That was
a sight ! The curds ran down all over her. She seized
in rage a piece of wood, and if I had not cleared out in
all haste, she would certainly have beat me to death.

Scenes like this occurred very often. At such
skirmishes of course my wife had to remain neutral, and
whichever party gained the upper hand, it came home to
her very closely. "Oh !" she often complained, "if only
the one or the other of you had a little more patience ! "

Tired of a ceaseless open war I once hit upon a strat-
agem, which had a good effect for a short time at least.
I rose about midnight, took a large vessel of earthenw^are,
crept with it under my mother-in-law's bed, and began to

An Autobiography. 77

speak aloud into the vessel after the following fashion: —
" O Rissia, Rissia, you ungodly woman, why do you treat
my beloved son so ill ? If you do not mend your ways,
your end is near, and you will be damned to all eternity."
Then I crept out again, and began to pinch her cruelly ;
and after a while I slipped silently back to bed.

The following morning she got up in consternation,
and told my ^^^fe, that my mother had appeared to her
in a dream, and had threatened and pinched her on my
account. In confirmation she showed the blue marks on
her arm. ^^^len I came from the synagogue, I did not
find my mother-in-law at home, but found my wife in
tears. I asked the reason, but she would tell me nothing.
My mother-in-law returned with dejected look, and eyes
red with weeping. She had gone, as I afterwards learned,
to the Jewish place of burial, thrown herself on my
mother's grave, and begged for forgiveness of her fault.
She then had the burial place measured, and ordered a
wax-light as long as its circumference, for burning in the
synagogue. She also fasted the whole day, and towards
me showed herself extremely amiable.

I knew of course what was the cause of all this, but
acted as if I did not obsen-e it, and rejoiced in secret
over the success of my stratagem. In this manner I
had peace for some time, but unfortunately it did not
last long. The whole was soon forgotten again, and on
the slightest occasion the dance went on as before. In
short, I was soon aftenvards obliged to leave the house


78 Solomo7i Maimon:

altogether, and accept a position as a private tutor. Only
on the great feast-days I used to come home.

An Autobiography. j()


The Secrets of the Marriage State — Prince Radzivil,* or what is
not all allowed in Poland ?

In my fourteenth year I had my eldest son, David. At
my marriage I was only eleven years old, and owing to
the retired life common among people of our nation in
those regions, as well as the want of mutual intercourse
between the two sexes, I had no idea of the essential
duties of marriage, but looked on a pretty girl as on any
other work of nature or art, somewhat as on the pretty
medicine-box that I stole. It was therefore natural that
for a considerable time after marriage I could not have
any thought about the fulfilment of its duties. I used to
approach my wife with trembling as a mysterious object.
It was therefore supposed that I had been bewitched at
the time of the wedding ; and under this supposition I
was brought to a witch to be cured. She took in hand
all sorts of operations, which of course had a good effect,
although indirectly through the help of the imagination.

* Maimon gives merely the initial " R " of this name ; but as he
has already (Chap, i.) told us that his prince was Radzivil, there is
not much mystery in this artifice. — Trans.


So Solomon Maimon :

My life in Poland from my marriage to my emigration,
which period embraces the springtime of my existence,
was a series of manifold miseries with a want of all
means for the promotion of culture, and, necessarily
connected with that, an aimless application of my powers,
in the description of which the pen drops from my hands,
and the painful memories of which I strive to stifle.*

The general constitution of Poland at the time; the
condition of our people in it, who, like the poor ass with
the double burden, are oppressed by their own ignorance
and the religious prejudices connected therewith, as well
as by the ignorance and prejudices of the ruling classes ;
the misfortunes of my own family; — all these causes
combined to hinder me in the course of my develop-
ment, and to check the effect of my natural disposition.

The Polish nation, under which I comprehend merely

* This horror of memory tormented Maimon to the end of his
days. " He dreamed often that he was in Poland again, deprived
of all his books ; and Lucius metamorphosed into an ass was not in
a more pitiable plight. 'From this agony,' said Maimon, *I was
usually aroused by a loud cry, and my joy was indescribable on
finding that it was only a dream.'" [Alaiinoniaiia, p. 94). " He
once received a visit from his brother, for whom he was deeply
affected. Poor as he was himself, Maimon kept him a long while,
gave him clothing and everything else that he could, besides pro-
curing from some friends enough money to pay his travelling ex-
penses. Above all, he told me, he was affected at letting his
brother go back into the wilderness ; and if he had not had a wife
and children at home, he would have tried to keep him beside him-
self." {Ilnd.y p. 175). — Trans,

An Autobiography. 8i

the Polish nobility, is of a very mixed kind. Only the
very few have an opportunity of culture by means of
upbringing, instruction, and well-directed travels, by
which they can best promote at once their own welfare
and that of their tenantry. Most of them, on the other
hand, spend their lives in ignorance and immorality, and
become the sport of their extravagant passions, which
are ruinous to their tenants. They make a display with
titles and orders, which they disgrace by their actions ;
they own many estates which they do not understand

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