Wednesday, January 18, 2012

They destroyed the tea, sacré bleu!

Here's a really interesting paragraph from Isaac de Pinto's pamphlet against the American Revolution. This is from the English translation (of course) called Letters on the American Troubles, printed in London 1776.

He also describes the revolution as caused by "the temper of Oliver Cromwell which has unhappily taken root, and germinated in the wilds of America."

Pinto, a Dutch Sephardic Jew, is probably best known for taking on Voltaire for his antisemitism - in the course of which he argued that maybe the Polish and German Jews are pretty bad, granted, but the Spanish-Portuguese ones aren't. (In fairness to him, this was an apologetic argument designed to prove that Voltaire was wrong about the Jews, that they have to be terrible and alien, that it was intrinsic. It probably was not designed to wound the sensibilities of Ashkenazim at all, even if we allow ourselves to assume that he personally probably harbored a casual sort of snobbery toward Ashkenazim.)

Here is how The Monthly Review reviewed his book against Voltaire (which was published anonymously) in 1763:

It basically says that even though the author is rumored to have influenced and softened Voltaire's stance on the Jews, he is kind of guilty of the same thing as Voltaire - slandering the many on the account of the few.


  1. S.,
    Do you know who wrote the review in the monthly review? It seems astonishing that something like was written in 1763 - as opposed to 100 or 150 years later. Is my surprise misplaced?

  2. Unfortunately the reviews in the Monthly Review were anonymous. Someone wrote a book identifying the authors in the Second Series (beginning in 1798) but I don't know how to identify this one. I'm inclined to assume that it was not a Jew; 1763 is pretty early. There are "Jew friendly" stuff in British journals that were written by anonymous Jews, but I suspect that this is not one of them. 1. Pretty early, and 2. it's hard to believe a Sephardi would write that, or an Ashkenazi, at this time, would be writing for a journal and if so, would actually defend the Ashkenazim.

    I found a snippet on Google Books from a 1923 book on de Pinto which refers to this review. I suppose there's a chance that the author has identified who wrote this, but I don't know.

    As for whether you're surprise is misplaced, I think it is. Certainly such a sentiment would not be the norm, but I've long since had to put away my surprise in reading genuinely tolerant sentiments among 18th century European writers.



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