Salomon Maimon.

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how to manage, and they are at perpetual feud with one
another, so that the kingdom must of necessity become
the prey of its neighbours, who are envious of its great-

Prince Radzivil was, as Hettmann in Poland and
Voivode in Lithuania, one of the greatest magnates,
and as occupant of three inheritances in his family
owned immense estates. He was not without a certain
kindness of heart and good sense ; but, through
neglected training and a want of instruction, he became
one of the most extravagant princes that ever lived.
From want of occupation, which was a necessary conse-
quence of neglect in cultivating his tastes and widening
his knowledge, he gave himself up to drinking, by which
he was tempted to the most ridiculous and insane actions.
Without any particular inclination for it he abandoned
himself to the most shameful sensuality ; and without

Si Solomon Mainion :

being cruel, he exercised towards his dependents the
greatest cruelties.

He supported at great cost an army of ten thousand
men, which was used for no purpose in the world except
display; and during the troubles in Poland he took,
without knowing why, the part of the Confederates. By
this means he got himself encumbered with the friend-
ship of the Russians, who plundered his estates, and
plunged his tenants into the greatest destitution and
misery. He himself was obliged several times to flee
from the country, and to leave as booty for his enemies
treasures which had been the gathering of many genera-

Who can describe all the excesses he perpetrated ? A
few examples will, I believe, be sufficient to give the
reader some idea of them. A certain respect for my
former prince does not allow me to consider his faults as
anything but faults of temperament and education, which
deserve rather our pity than our hatred and contempt.

When he passed through a street, which he commonly
did with the whole pomp of his court, his bands of music
and soldiers, no man, at the peril of his life, durst show
himself in the street ; and even in the houses people were
by no means safe. The poorest, dirtiest peasant-woman,
who came in his way, he would order up into his carriage
beside himself.

Once he sent for a respectable Jewish barber, who,
suspecting nothing but that he was wanted for some

An Autobiography. 83

surgical operation, brought his instruments with him, and
appeared before the prince.

" Have you brought your instruments with you ? " he
was asked.

"Yes, Serene Highness," he rephed.

" Then," said the prince, "give me a lancet, and I will
open one of your veins."

The poor barber had to submit. The prince seized
the lancet ; and as he did not know how to go about the
operation, and besides his hand trembled as a result of
his hard drinking, of course he wounded the barber in a
pitiable manner. But his courtiers smiled their applause,
and praised his great skill in surgery.

He went one day into a church, and being so drunk
that he did not know where he was, he stood against the

altar, and commenced to . All who were present

became horrified. Next morning when he was sober, the
clergy brought to his mind the misdeed he had committed
the day before. " Eh ! " said the prince, " we will soon
make that good." Thereupon he issued a command to
the Jews of the place, to provide at their own expense,
fifty stone of wax for burning in the church. The poor
Jews were therefore obliged to bring a sin-offering for
the desecration of a Christian Church by an orthodox
Catholic Christian.

He once took it into his head to drive on the wall
round the town. But as the wall was too narrow for a
coach with six horses, — and he never drove in any other,

84 Solom07i Mai??wn :

— his hussars were obhged, with much labour and peril
of their lives, to carry the coach with their hands till he
had driven round the town in this way.

Once he drove with the whole pomp of his court to a
Jewish synagogue, and, without any one to this day
knowing the reason, committed the greatest havoc,
smashed windows and stoves, broke all the vessels, threw
on the ground the copies of the Holy Scriptures kept in
the ark, and so forth. A learned, pious Jew, who was
present, ventured to lift one of these copies from the
ground, and had the honour of being struck with a
musket-ball by His Serene Highness' own hand. From
here the train went to a second synagogue, where the
same conduct was repeated, and from there they pro-
ceeded to the Jewish burial-place, where the buildings
were demolished, and the monuments cast into the fire.

Can it be conceived, that a prince could show himself
so malicious towards his own poor subjects, whom he
was in a position to punish legally whenever they really
did anything amiss ? Yet this is what happened here.

On one occasion he took it into his head to make a
trip to Mohilna, a hamlet belonging to him, which lay
four short miles from his Residence. This had to be
done with his usual suite and all the pomp of his court.
On the morning of the appointed day the train went forth.
First marched the army in order according to its usual
regimental divisions, — infantry, artillery, cavalry, and so
on. Then followed his bodyguard, Strelitzi, consisting of

An Avtobiography. 85

volunteers from the poor nobility. After them came his
kitchen-waggons, in which Hungarian wine had not been
forgotten. These were followed by the music of his
janissaries, and other bands. Then came his coach, and
last of all his satraps. I give them this name, because I
can compare this train with no other than that of Darius
in the war against Alexander. Towards evening His
Serene Highness arrived at our public house in the
suburb of the town which was His Serene Highness'
Residence, Nesvij. I cannot say that he arrived in his
own high person, for the Hungarian wine had robbed
him of all consciousness, in which alone of course per-
sonality rests. He was carried into the house and thrown
with all his clothes, booted and spurred, on to my
mother-in-law's dirty bed, without giving it a supply of
clean linen.

As usual, I had to take to flight. My Amazons, how-
ever, I mean my mother-in-law and my wife, trusted to
their heroic mettle, and remained at home alone. Riot
went on the whole night. In the very room where His
Serene Highness slept, wood was chopped, cooking and
baking were done. It was well known that, when His
Serene Highness slept, nothing could waken his high
person except perhaps the trumpet of the Judgment-Day.
The next morning, when he wakened, and looked around,
he scarcely knew whether to trust his eyes, when he found
himself in a wretched public-house, thrown on to a dirty
bed swarming with bugs. His valets, pages, and negroes

86 Solotnon Maimon:

waited on his commands. He asked how he had come
there, and was answered, that His Serene Highness had
yesterday commenced a journey to Mohilna, but had
halted here to take rest, that his whole train had mean-
while gone on, and had undoubtedly arrived in Mohilna
by this time.

The journey to Mohilna was for the present given up,
and the whole train ordered back. They returned
accordingly to the Residence in the usual order and
pomp. But the prince was pleased to hold a great
banquet in our public-house. All the foreign gentlemen,
who happened to be in the place at the time, were
invited. The service used on the occasion was of gold,
and it is impossible adequately to realise the contrast
which reigned here in one house, between Asiatic splen-
dour and Lappish poverty. In a miserable public-house,
whose walls were black as coal with smoke and soot,
whose rafters were supported by undressed round stems
of trees, whose windows consisted of some fragments of
broken panes of bad glass, and small strips of pine
covered with paper, — in this house sat princes on dirty
benches at a still dirtier table, and had the choicest
dishes and the finest wines served to them on gold plate.

Before the banquet the prince took a stroll with the
other gentlemen in front of the house, and by chance
observed my wife. She was then in the bloom of her
youth ; and although I am now separated from her, still
I must do her the justice to allow that — leaving, of course,

An Autobiography. 87

out of account all that taste and art contribute to the
heightening of a person's charms, inasmuch as these had
had no influence on her — she was a beauty of the first
rank. It was therefore natural that she should please
the prince. He turned to his companions, and said,
" Really a pretty young woman ! Only she ought to get
a white chemise." This was a common signal with him,
and meant as much as the throwing of a handkerchief
by the Grand Sultan. When these gentlemen therefore
heard it, they became solicitous for the honour of my
wife, and gave her a hint to clear out as fast as possible.
She took the hint, slipped silently out, and was soon
over the hills and far away.

After the banquet His Serene Highness proceeded
again with the other gentlemen into town amid trumpets,
kettle-drums, and the music of his janissaries. Then the
usual order of the day was followed ; that is, a carousal
was carried on the whole afternoon and evening, and
then the party went to a pleasure-house at the entrance
to the prince's zoological garden, where fire-works were
set off at great expense, but usually with accidents. As
every goblet was drained, cannons were fired ; but the
poor cannoneers, who knew better how to handle the
plough than the cannon, were not seldom injured.
" Vivat Kschondsie Radzivil," that is, " Long live Prince
Radzivil," shouted the guests. The palm in this
Bacchanalian sport was of course awarded to the prince ;
and those who awarded it were loaded by him with

88 Solomon Maimon:

presents, not in perishable coin or golden snuff-boxes or
anything of that sort, but in real estate with many hun-
dred peasants. At the close a concert was given, during
which His Serene Highness fell gently asleep, and was
carried to the castle.

The expenses of such extravagance were of course ex-
torted from the poor tenantry. If this was not sufficient,
debts were contracted, and estates sold to wipe them out.
Not even the twelve golden statues in life-size, — whether
they represented the twelve apostles or the twelve giants,
I do not know, — nor the golden table which had been
made for himself, were spared on such emergencies. And
thus the noble estates of this great prince were dimin-
ished, his treasures which had accumulated during many

generations were exhausted, and his tenants But I

must break off.

The prince died not long ago without heirs of his
body. His brother's son inherited the estates.

An Autobiography. 89


Endeavour after mental Culture amid ceaseless Struggles with
Misery of every kind.

By means of the instruction received from my father, but
still more by my own industry, I had got on so well, that
in my eleventh year I was able to pass as a full rabbi.
Besides I possessed some disconnected knowledge in
history, astronomy, and other mathematical sciences. I
burned with desire to acquire more knowledge, but how
was this to be accomplished in the want of guidance, of
scientific books, and of all other means for the purpose ?
I was obliged therefore to content myself with making
use of any help that I could by chance obtain, without
plan or method.

In order to gratify my desire of scientific knowledge,
there were no means available but that of learning foreign
languages. But how was I to begin ? To learn Polish
or Latin with a Catholic teacher was for me impossible,
on the one hand because the prejudices of my own
people prohibited to me all languages but Hebrew, and
all sciences but the Talmud and the vast array of its
commentators, on the other hand because the prejudices


go Solomo7i MatfHon :

of Catholics would not allow them to give instruction in
those matters to a Jew. Moreover I was in very low
temporal circumstances. I was obliged to support a
whole family by teaching, by correcting proofs of the
Holy Scriptures, and by other work of a similar kind.
For a long time therefore I had to sigh in vain for the
satisfaction of my natural inclination.

At last a fortunate accident came to my help. I
observed in some stout Hebrew volumes, that they
contained several alphabets, and that the number of their
sheets was indicated not merely by Hebrew letters, but
that for this purpose the characters of a second and a third
alphabet had also been employed, these being commonly
Latin and German letters. Now, I had not the slightest
idea of printing. I generally imagined that books were
printed like linen, and that each page was an impression
from a separate form. I presumed however that the
characters, which stood in similar places, must represent
one and the same letter, and as I had already heard
something of the order of the alphabet in these languages,
I supposed that, for example, a, standing in the same
place as aleph^ must likewise be an aleph in sound. In
this way I gradually learnt the Latin and German

By a kind of deciphering I began to combine various
German letters into words ; but as the characters used
along with the Hebrew letters might be something quite
different from these, I remained always doubtful whether

An Autobiography. 91

the whole of my labour in this operation would not be in
vain, till fortunately some leaves of an old German book
fell into my hand. I began to read. How great were
my joy and surprise, when I saw from the connection,
that the words completely corresponded with those which
I had learned. 'Tis true, in my Jewish language many
of the words were unintelligible ; but from the connec-
tion I was still able, with the omission of these words, to
comprehend the whole pretty well.*

This mode of learning by deciphering constitutes still
my peculiar method of comprehending and judging the
thoughts of others ; and I maintain that no one can say
he understands a book, as long as he finds himself com-
pelled to deliver the thoughts of the author in the order
and connection determined by him, and with the expres-
sions which he has used. This is a mere work of memory,
and no man can flatter himself with having comprehend-
ed an author till he is roused by his thoughts, which he
apprehends at first but dimly, to reflect on the subject

* It was probably a reminiscence of this labour of deciphering,
that led to the following outburst of sympathy :— " One day Maimon
read in an English work, that the author had only commenced to
learn the ABC when he was eighteen years of age, and that the
first book which fell into his hands was one of Newton's works.
His master (for he was a servant) came upon him at this task, and
asked, ' What are you doing with that ? you can't read ?' ' O yes,'
he replied, ' I have learnt to read, and I began with the most diffi-
cult subjects.' Maimon read this in my presence with tears in his
eyes." {Maimoniana, pp. 230-1). —7>a«j.

Q 2 Solomon Maimon :

himself, and to work it out for himself, though it may be
under the impulse of another. This distinction between
different kinds of understanding must be evident to any
man of discernment. — For the same reason also I can
understand a book only when the thoughts which it con-
tains harmonise after filling up the gaps between them.

I still always felt a want which I was not able to fill.
I could not completely satisfy my desire of scientific
knowledge. Up to this time the study of the Talmud
was still my chief occupation. With this however I
found pleasure merely in view of its form, for this calls
into action the higher powers of the mind; but I took
no interest in its matter. It affords exercise in deducing
the remotest consequences from their principles, in dis-
covering the most hidden contradictions, in hunting out
the finest distinctions, and so forth. But as the princi-
ples themselves have merely an imaginary reality, they
cannot by any means satisfy a soul thirsting after know-

I looked around therefore for something, by which I
could supply this want. Now, I knew that there is a
so-called science, which is somewhat in vogue among the
Jewish scholars of this district, namely the Cabbalah,
which professes to enable a man, not merely to satisfy
his desire of knowledge, but also to reach an uncommon
perfection and closeness of communion with God. Na-
turally therefore I burned with desire for this science.
As however it cannot, on account of its sacredness, be

An Autobiography. 93

publicly taught, but must be taught in secret, I did not
know where to seek the initiated or their writings.

f)4 Solomon Maivion


I study the Cabbalah, and become at last a Physician.

Cabbalah, — to treat of this divine science somewhat
more in detail, — means, in the wider sense of the term,
traditio7i ; and it comprehends, not only the occult
sciences which may not be pubhcly taught, but also the
method of deducing new laws from the laws that are
given in the Holy Scriptures, as also some fundamental
laws which are said to have been delivered orally to
Moses on Mount Sinai. In the narrower sense of the
term, however, Cabbalah means only the tradition of
occult sciences. This is divided into theoretical and
practical Cabbalah. The former comprehends the doc-
trines of God, of His attributes which are expressed by
means of His manifold names, of the origin of the world
through a gradual limitation of His infinite perfection,
and of the relation of all things to His supreme essence.
The latter is the doctrine which teaches how to work
upon nature at pleasure by means of those manifold
names of God, which represent various modes of working
upon, and relations to, natural objects. These sacred
names are regarded, not as merely arbitrary, but as

An Aiiiobiograpliy. 95

7iaiural signs, so that all that is done with these signs
must have an influence on the object which they repre-

Originally the Cabbalah was nothing but psychology,
physics, morals, politics, and such sciences, represented
by means of symbols and hieroglyphs in fables and
allegories, the occult meaning of which was disclosed
only to those who were competent to understand it. By
and by, however, perhaps as the result of many revolu-
tions, this occult meaning was lost, and the signs were
taken for the things signified. But as it was easy to
perceive that these signs necessarily had meant some-
thing, it was left to the imagination to invent an occult
meaning which had long been lost. The remotest ana-
logies between signs and things were seized, till at last
the Cabbalah degenerated into an art of madness accord-
ing to method^ or a systematic science resting on conceits.
The big promise of its design, to work effects on nature
at pleasure, the lofty strain and the pomp with which it
announces itself, have naturally an extraordinary influ-
ence on minds of the visionary type, that are unen-
lightened by the sciences and especially by a thorough

The principal work for the study of the Cabbalah is
the Zohar, which is written in a very lofty style in the
Syrian language. All other Cabbalistic writings are to
be regarded as merely commentaries on this, or extracts
from it.

gS Solomon Maiinon :

There are two main systems of the Cabbalah, — the
system of Rabbi Moses Kordovero, and that of Rabbi
Isaac Luria.* The former is more rea/, that is, it
approximates more closely to reason. The latter, on the
other hand, is more formal, that is, it is completer in the
structure of its system. The modern Cabbalists prefer
the latter, because they hold that only to be genuine
Cabbalah, in which there is no rational meaning. The
principal work of Rabbi Moses Kordovero is the Pardes
(Paradise). Of Rabbi Isaac Luria himself we have some
disconnected writings ; but his pupil, Rabbi Chajim
Vitall, wrote a large work under the title, Ez Chajmi
(The Tree of Life), in which the whole system of his
master is contained. This work is held by the Jews to
be so sacred, that they do not allow it to be committed
to print. Naturally, I had more taste for the Cabbalah
of Rabbi Moses than for that of Rabbi Isaac, but durst
not give utterance to my opinion on this point.

After this digression on the Cabbalah in general, I re-
turn to my story. I learned that the under-rabbi or
preacher of the place was an adept in the Cabbalah; and
therefore, to attain my object, I made his acquaintance.
I took my seat beside him in the synagogue, and as I

* Both of these Cabbalists belonged to the sixteenth century.
The former, as his name implies, belonged to Cordova in Spain ;
the latter, to the German community in Jerusalem {Josfs Geschichte
ies /udenthums. Vol. iii., pp. \y]-\^o). — Trans,

A 71 Autobiography. 97

observed once that after prayer he always read from a
small book, and then put it past carefully in its place, I
became very curious to know what sort of book this was.
Accordingly, after the preacher had gone home, I went
and took the book from the place where he had put it ;
and when I found that it was a Cabbalistic work, I went
with it and hid myself in a corner of the synagogue, till
all the people had gone out and the door was locked. I
then crept from my hiding-place, and, without a thought
about eating or drinking the whole day long, read the
fascinating book till the doorkeeper came and opened
the synagogue again in the evening.

Shaarei Kediishah^ or The Gates of Righteousness^ was
the title of this book ; and, leaving out of account what
was visionary and exaggerated, it contained the principal
doctrines of psychology. I did with it therefore as the
Talmudists say Rabbi Meir acted, who had a heretic for
his teacher, *' He found a pomegranate ; he ate the fruit
and threw the peel away." *

* Rabbi Meir's teacher was Elisha ben Abuyah, "the Faust of
the Talmud," as he has been strikingly styled by Mr, Deutsch.
The Talmud preserves a beautiful story illustrative of the devoted
affection which Meir continued to cherish for his apostate master.
Four men, so runs the legend, entered Paradise ; that is, according
to Talmudic symbolism, they entered upon the study of that secret
science with its bewildering labyrinth of speculative dreams, through
which it is given only to a few rare spirits to find their way. Of
these four, "one beheld and died, one beheld and lost his senses,
one destroyed the young plants, one only entered in peace and

9$ SoiojHon Maimon :

In two or three days I had in this way finished the
book ; but instead of satisfying my curiosity, it only ex-
cited it the more. I wished to read more books of the
same sort. But as I was too bashful to confess this to
the preacher, I resolved to write him a letter, in which I
expressed my irresistible longing for this sazred science,
and therefore entreated him earnestly to assist me with
books. I received from him a very favourable answer.
He praised my zeal for the sacred science, and assured
me that this zeal, amid so little encouragement, was an
obvious sign that my soul was derived from Olam Aziloth
(the world of the immediate divine influence), while the
souls of mere Talmudists take their origin from Olam
Jezirah (the world of the creation). He promised, there-
fore, to assist me with books as far as lay in his power.
But as he himself was occupied mainly with this science,
and required to have such books constantly at hand, he

came out in peace." The destroyer of the young plants was Elisha
ben Abuyah. Once he was passing the ruins of the temple on the
great day of atonement, and heard a voice within "moaning like a
dove," — "All men shall be forgiven this day save Elisha ben
Abuyah who, knowing me, has betrayed me." After his death
fla.mes hovered incessantly over his grave, until his loving disciple
threw himself upon it and swore an oath of devout self-sacrifice,
that he would not partake of the joys of heaven without his master,
nor move from the spot until his master's soul had found forgiveness
before the Throne of Grace. See Emanuel Deutsch's Literary
Remains, p. 15 ; and Jest's Geschidite des /udenthums, Vol. ii.,
pp. 102-4.

An AutobiograpJiy. 99

could not lend them to me, but gave me permission to
study them in his house at my pleasure.

Who was gladder than I ! I accepted the offer of the
preacher with gratitude, scarcely ever left his house, and
sat day and night over the Cnbbalistic books. Two
representations especially gave me the greatest trouble.

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