Abraham Goldsmid: Financial Magician and the Public Image

  • Mark Schoenfield
Part of the Nineteenth-Century Major Lives and Letters book series (19CMLL)


In March of 1807, the publisher Alexander Hunter attended a dinner given by Isaac D’Israeli. In a letter to his partner, Archibald Constable, a few days later, he reported: “The whole company, except ourselves I believe, were Jews and Jewesses! The astonishing fact of the separate and uniform appearance of this wandering people over all the nations of the earth is one of the most extraordinary events recorded, or rather foretold, in scriptures, and is surely one of the most puzzling facts an unbeliever can meet with” (Constable I:126). In a gesture t hat replicates Christian e xegesis, Hunter understands the communality of the Jews as signifying the truth of Christianity.1 Such assumptions exerted pressure on Jews to perform their ethnicity in prescribed ways. A paradigmatic figure for this performance in Romantic-era London was Abraham Goldsmid. His own performance of his public identity operated within the matrix of the periodical press, and confronted William Cobbett’s marshaling of cultural anti-Semitism.


Financial Market Public Character Periodical Press Public Representation Paper Money 
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  1. 1.
    The anti-Semitism of Hunter’s remarks is confirmed by a letter three days later in which he complains about a “Bailie’s” economy in preferring the simpler chariot over a more fashionable barouche-landau: he “would not go the price. He’s a Jew” (Constable I:128).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Burke continues: We know who it was that drove the money-changers out of the temple. We see, too, who it is that brings them in again. We have in London very respectable persons of the Jewish nation, whom we will keep; but we have of the same tribe others of a very different description, house-breakers, and receivers of stolen goods, and forgers of paper currency, more than we can conveniently hang. (Letter 15)Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    FC 47 “Aug 22nd 1806” [date penciled]; from the Archive at Morden Lodge.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Apparently, the “French” Goldsmith was a paid British propagandist, and in England, he was released from a charge of high treason through the intercession of Abraham Goldsmid, “who introduced him to Spencer Percival, the Prime Minister” (Rubens, “Portrait of AngloJewry” 41).Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    In 1803,the Goldsmid firm was one of five that gave £ 1,000 (about 10 times the average subscription, and in the 99th percentile) in support of the war effort, an amount that put their name, along with Baring’s, at the top of a list of roughly five hundred subscribers that was published and distributed to the newspapers (Fairburn 9). The “Newy Tozadik, or House of Justice,” which bore the Hebrew inscription, “Keep ye judgment, and do justice” “arose from the philanthropic exertions” of the Goldsmids (Brayley III:120). Comparing modern financial merchants to Cosmo De’Medici, P. Williams declares, “With what rapturous admiration does the mind dwell on the princely clarities, the unbounded benevolence of a Peele, a Baring, and a Goldsmid” (17).Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    In his 1806, two-volume edition, Hughson indicated that “the generous and opulent proprietor” had “spared no expense” in making the villa “perhaps one of the most complete and elegant in this kingdom”; besides noting six pillars, he mentions “a curious well, two hundred feet deep, with an inscription alluding to Abraham’s finding water” (quoted in Fretwell). The association of pillars and financial stability continued, as seen in an 1829 print of Nathan Rothschild beside a pillar, titled “A PILLAR of the Exchange.”Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Endelman discusses Van Oven’s plans and Goldsmid’s interests in them (231–6). The scheme that Van Oven had proposed to combat Jewish “poverty and criminality” was “the creation of a communally financed, government-supported agency for the relief and the control of the Jewish poor”; this entailed the creation of a “Jewish poor relief board to be invested by Parliament with quasi-governmental powers” including that of taxation of wealthier Jews (231–2).Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    A less ideologically trenchant illustration of the public force of Goldsmid’s name appears in the Newgate Calendar. In 1810, Levi Mortgen and Joseph Luppa were convicted of conspiring to swindle a Piccadilly innkeeper. Posing as agents of Russian princes, they “borrowed” eight pounds to obtain appropriate passports for the Russian aristocrats and concocted the story that Mortgen “had got an order to draw on Abraham Goldsmid, esq., to the amount of five hundred pounds, and that on his return in the evening he would deposit one hundred pounds in order to ensure the keeping of the rooms” (Newgate 5:82–3).Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Cole details Cobbett’s prosecution and imprisonment for sedition based on his articles in the Political Register that protested the flogging of British troops (Chs. 9–10); Paper against Gold, “a full examination of the paper-money system,” was “the main literary labour” of Cobbett’s imprisonment (169).Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Cobbett’s anti-Semitism frequently focused on the increased visibility of Jews—“the pride of our assemblies, the arbiters of our amusements”—and included variants of the charge that “nine tenths of the press” is “absolutely in the pay of the Jews” (Herzog 300–01)Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    The European Magazine reported the inquest’s summary: “On Thursday, while on change, he betrayed more than usual impatience and irritability, and spoke very incoherently as to the revenge he proposed to himself, in the punishment of the two parties opposed to him in the money market” (58: 314).Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    This scandal had prompted a parliamentary investigation that found that, though Goldsmid acted improperly, he was not discounting his own bills and his profit was modest (Cope 189).Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Paulding’s various literary skirmishes are contextualized in Reynolds (40–54). His Childe Roeliff’s Pilgrimage: A Travelling Legend (1832) exposes Byronic melancholy in a formula reminiscent of Cobbett’s contempt for Goldsmid: Childe Roeliff having got rich by a blunder … subscribed liberally to all public-spirited undertakings that promised to bring him in a good profit; attended upon all public meetings whose proceedings were to be published in the newspapers, with the names of the chairman, secretary, and committee; and gave away his money with tolerable liberality where he was sure of its being recorded. (112)Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Goldsmith died in 1774. Goshawk’s reference to the “Great Unknown” as one of the four “poets” he knows—the others being Byron, Moore, and himself—appears despite the historical detail that Walter Scott was as yet not “Unknown” since the anonymous Waverley had not been published and he was famous for his poetry.Google Scholar

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© Mark Schoenfield 2009

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  • Mark Schoenfield

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