Biography Solomon Maimon

Solomon Maimon

Solomon Maimon
Catalog # SKU3676
Publisher TGS Publishing
Weight 1.00 lbs
Author Name Solomon Maimon
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Solomon Maimon

An Autobiography

Solomon Maimon
Translator J. Clark Murray

The inhabitants of Poland may be conveniently divided into six classes or orders:-the superior nobility, the inferior nobility, the half-noble, burghers, peasantry and Jews.

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The superior nobility consist of the great landowners and administrators of the high offices of government. The inferior nobility also are allowed to own land and to fill any political office; but they are prevented from doing so by their poverty. The half-noble can neither own land, nor fill any high office in the State; and by this he is distinguished from the genuine noble. Here and there, it is true, he owns land; but for that he is in some measure dependent on the lord of the soil, within whose estate his property lies, inasmuch as he is required to pay him a yearly tribute.

The burghers are the most wretched of all the orders. They are not, 'tis true, in servitude to any man; they also enjoy certain privileges, and have a jurisdiction of their own. But as they seldom own any property of value, or follow rightly any profession, they always remain in a condition of pitiable poverty.

The last two orders, namely the peasantry and the Jews, are the most useful in the country. The former occupy themselves with agriculture, raising cattle, keeping bees,-in short, with all the products of the soil. The latter engage in trade, take up the professions and handicrafts, become bakers, brewers, dealers in beer, brandy, mead and other articles. They are also the only persons who farm estates in towns and villages, except in the case of ecclesiastical properties, where the reverend gentlemen hold it a sin to put a Jew in a position to make a living, and accordingly prefer to hand over their farms to the peasants. For this they must suffer by their farms going to ruin, as the peasantry have no aptitude for this sort of employment: but of course they choose rather to bear this with Christian resignation.

In consequence of the ignorance of most of the Polish landlords, the oppression of the tenantry, and the utter want of economy, most of the farms in Poland, at the end of last century, had fallen into such a state of decay, that a farm, which now yields about a thousand Polish gulden, was offered to a Jew for ten; but in consequence of still greater ignorance and laziness, with all that advantage even he could not make a living off the farm. An incident, however, occurred at this time, which gave a new turn to affairs. Two brothers from Galicia, where the Jews are much shrewder than in Lithuania, took, under the name of Dersawzes or farmers-general, a lease of all the estates of Prince Radzivil, and, by means of a better industry as well as a better economy, they not only raised the estates into a better condition, but also enriched themselves in a short time.

Disregarding the clamour of their brethren, they increased the rents, and enforced payment by the sub-lessees with the utmost stringency. They themselves exercised a direct oversight of the farms; and wherever they found a farmer who, instead of looking after his own interests and those of his landlord in the improvement of his farm by industry and economy, spent the whole day in idleness, or lay drunk about the stove, they soon brought him to his senses, and roused him out of his indolence by a flogging. This procedure of course acquired for the farmers-general, among their own people, the name of tyrants.

All this, however, had a very good effect. The farmer, who at the term had hitherto been unable to pay up his ten gulden of rent without requiring to be sent to jail about it, now came under such a strong inducement to active exertion, that he was not only able to support a family off his farm, but was also able to pay, instead of ten, four or five hundred, and sometimes even a thousand gulden.

The Jews, again, may be divided into three classes:-(1) the illiterate working people, (2) those who make learning their profession, and (3) those who merely devote themselves to learning without engaging in any remunerative occupation, being supported by the industrial class. To the second class belong the chief rabbis, preachers, judges, schoolmasters, and others of similar profession. The third class consists of those who, by their pre-eminent abilities and learning, attract the regard of the unlearned, are taken by these into their families, married to their daughters, and maintained for some years with wife and children at their expense. Afterwards, however, the wife is obliged to take upon herself the maintenance of the saintly idler and the children (who are usually very numerous); and for this, as is natural, she thinks a good deal of herself.

There is perhaps no country besides Poland, where religious freedom and religious enmity are to be met with in equal degree. The Jews enjoy there a perfectly free exercise of their religion and all other civil liberties; they have even a jurisdiction of their own. On the other hand, however, religious hatred goes so far, that the name of Jew has become an abomination; and this abhorrence, which had taken root in barbarous times, continued to show its effects till about thirteen years ago.

312 pages - 7 x 8½ softcover

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