Tuesday, October 05, 2010

A practical joke at a circumcision in London circa 1725.

César de Saussure was born in 1705 into a family of exiled French Huguenots in Switzerland. In 1725 he journeyed to England and other parts of Europe. During his years of traveling he wrote many letters to his family. His great-great-grandson's wife translated them and published them in English in 1902 as A foreign view of England in the reigns of George I. & George II.:The letters of Monsieur César de Saussure to his family. These letters were of such interest that they became popular in his lifetime, although they remained unpublished. In her introduction she claims that his letters were loaned to more than 200 people, including Voltaire, and that because of the interest in them he had them bound in a single volume.

Below is an excerpt from Letter XIV. It concerns a prank he played on a young Englishwoman whom, like he, was an interested onlooker at a brit in London. He convinced her that the sandak was going to be circumcised, and she believed him until the baby was brought out:


  1. boxers, lechers and now circumcision
    you're hitting all the typical jewish stereotypes today.
    but then again, what good ethnic joke isn't based on a stereotype.

  2. Circumcision is a stereotype? And boxers? Next you'll tell me that dentists are a stereotype.

  3. stereotype not quite the right word, but . . .

    there was an infatuation with circumcision in the sense that christians feared that there was a jewish plot to circumcise them (e.g., think "pound of flesh")

    also, there was an association bewtween jews and boxing in 19th c. england (which of course became even stronger in america), fueled especially by david mendoza, considered the father of modern boxing

    (if you have jts exhibit catalogue "the Jew as other: a century of english caricature, 1730-1830," see

  4. Terrific stuff. Keep it up. Interesting that the bris was held in shul, and not in a home. For some reason, I had believed that circumcisions in synagogues were of more modern advent. Not sure on what basis, though.

    Also interesting to glimpse the social relationship between Jew and gentile during this time and in this place. Surprisingly cordial and open.

  5. Abba, of course you're correct about the Jewish boxing connection, but as one whose name has too often been mistaken for "David," I must point out that it was Daniel Mendoza, not David.

  6. My eighty-year old uncle was once sitting on a park bench, when he was accosted by a thug, demanding his wallet. One quick jab by my uncle's fist (yeah, he used to be a boxer) sent the youth running.



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