- Abraham Mendelssohn:
- Dorothea (Brendel) Mendelssohn:
- Fanny Mendelssohn:
- Felix Mendelssohn (full name, Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy):
- Conductor of Gewandhaus Orchestra, Leipsic.
- Organizes Leipsic Conservatorium.
- Georg Benjamin Mendelssohn:
- Henriette (Sorel) Mendelssohn:
- Joseph Mendelssohn:
- Karl Mendelssohn-Bartholdy:
- Early Influences.
- Occupation as Book-keeper.
- Friendship with Lessing.
- Friendship with Nicolai.
- Contributions to Criticism.
- His Marriage.
- His "Phädon."
- Controversy with Lavater.
- Acquaintance with Herder.
- Jewish Activities.
- Translation of the Bible.
- Influence on German Judaism.
- Plea for Emancipation.
- His "Jerusalem."
- Attitude Toward Reform.
- His "Morgenstunden."
- Nathan Mendelssohn:
- Rebecka Mendelssohn:
- Recha (Reikel) Mendelssohn:
German family rendered illustrious by the philosopher and the musician. It can not verify its ancestry further back than the father of the philosopher, though there is a family tradition that it is descended from Moses Isserles.
- S. Hensel, Die Familie Mendelssohn, Berlin, 1879;
- Freudenthal, Aus dem Heimat Mendelssohn, Berlin, 1900.
Second son of Moses Mendelssohn; born at Berlin Dec. 10, 1776; died there Nov. 19, 1835; father of Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy. In 1803 he became cashier in Foulds' banking-house at Paris; but a year later he returned to Hamburg and went into partnership with his brother Joseph. At the same time he married Leah Salomon, a granddaughter of Daniel Itzig, and was persuaded by his brother-in-law, who at baptism had adopted the name of Bartholdy, to call himself "Mendelssohn-Bartholdy." During the siege of Hamburg by the French, Abraham and his brother were obliged to leave the city on a foggy night secretly and in disguise. They went to Berlin and founded there the banking firm of Mendelssohn & Co., from which Abraham later retired. In the year 1813 he equipped several volunteers at his own expense, and in recognition of his efforts for the public welfare he was elected to the municipal council of Berlin.Dorothea (Brendel) Mendelssohn:
Eldest daughter of Moses Mendelssohn; born at Berlin on Dec. 24, 1764; died at Frankfort-on-the-Main on Aug. 3, 1839. On account of her superior intelligence and her somewhat masculine nature she was even in her youth the leader in the circle of her friends. Early in April, 1783, she married a Berlin banker named Veit, an honest, worthy man, but of limited education and not prepossessing in appearance. After fifteen years of a married life far from happy, Dorothea became acquainted with Friedrich von Schlegel, at the house of Henriette Herz, a friend of her youth, who had advised her a few years after her marriage to Veit to separate from him. Schlegel, at that time young, handsome, and already famous, was captivated by the brilliant intellect of Dorothea, seven years his senior, despite her lack of beauty. She deserted Veit for Schlegel, being disowned by her family. In 1799 Schlegel took her to Jena, where he was unsuccessful. She shared his troubles and endured his moods, and in 1802 traveled with him to Paris, where she became a Protestant and married him. Six years later, on the return journey, she, with her husband and her son Philip, went over to Catholicism at Cologne.
Dorothea paid a severe penalty for her relationswith Schlegel, and was often obliged to struggle against abject poverty. For several years she lived on the scanty income from her literary labors and from what her deserted husband sent her anonymously from time to time. In 1818 and 1819 she lived at Rome with her sons Johann and Philip Veit, who had become artists. The rest of her eventful, unhappy life was passed at Frankfort-on-the-Main, where Schlegel was councilor at the Austrian legation, and where, after his death (1829), she lived with her son Philip on a small pension.
While still Schlegel's mistress she had made a literary venture in the novel "Florentine," which was published by him anonymously (Lübeck and Leipsic, 1801), and which was considered the best production of the romanticists in the domain of fiction. Under Schlegel's name appeared her version of the old German metrical romance "Lother und Maller" (Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1805) and the translation of Madame de Staël's "Corinne" (Berlin, 1807). From Old French she translated the "Gesch. des Zauberers Merlin" in Schlegel's "Sammlung Romantischer Dichtungen" (Leipsic, 1804), and she furnished several articles, signed "D," for the magazine "Europa," which Schlegel edited. Later she exchanged the pen for the needle. "There are," she said, "too many books in the world; but I have never heard that there are too many shirts."
- Reichlin-Meldegg, Paulus und Seine Zeit, Stuttgart, 1853, vol. ii., and the autobiography of Sulpice Boisserée, ib. 1862, containing many of Dorothea's letters;
- Kayserling, Die Jüdischen Frauen, p. 183;
- idem, Dorothea von Schlegel, in R. Prutz, Deutsches Museum, 1860, Nos. 49 et seq.;
- S. Hensel, Die Familie Mendelssohn, i. 45 et seq., Berlin, 1879.
Eldest daughter of Abraham Mendelssohn; born at Hamburg Nov. 15, 1805; died there May 17, 1847. When very young she manifested an exceptional memory and talent for music. She, together with her brother Felix, received her musical training from Ludwig Berger and Zelter, while her education in other subjects was conducted by the philologist Karl Heyse, who was tutor in the Mendelssohn house. In the year 1829 she married the painter W. Hensel in Berlin. She was herself a composer, and many of her brother Felix's "Songs Without Words" are believed to be her work (Hensel, l.c. vols. i-iii.).
German composer; born at Hamburg Feb. 3, 1809; died at Leipsic Nov. 4, 1847. He was a grandson of Moses Mendelssohn and a son of the banker Abraham Mendelssohn, who removed to Berlin in 1811. Felix received his early musical education from Ludwig Berger (piano), Zelter (thorough-bass and composition), and Henning (violin). At the age of ten he entered the Singakademie at Berlin as an alto, and in the following year composed the cantata "In Rührend Feierlichen Tönen" as well as several instrumental pieces.
The encouraging words of Cherubini, before whom Mendelssohn played while on a visit to Paris with his father in 1825, animated the young composer; on Aug. 6, 1826, he finished his overture to "Ein Sommernachtstraum" (A Midsummer Night's Dream, op. 21), which composition was publicly performed at Stettin in Feb., 1827. During this season Mendelssohn's opera "Die Hochzeit des Camacho" was produced at the Berlin Theater, but was soon withdrawn by Spontini, who at that time enjoyed almost unlimited authority as director of the opera, and is said to have had a personal antipathy to the young musician. During the following winter Mendelssohn began a propaganda in behalf of Bach's music, which culminated in the formation of a Bach Society and the publication of the masses of Bach as well as of all the church cantatas and other works of the great German composer.
On April 10, 1829, Mendelssohn left Berlin for London, where, in the following month, he made his début with much success at a concert of the Philharmonic Society. It was therefore from an English audience that he first received an acknowledgment of his genius. He gave five concerts in London, whence, in July, 1831, he set out upon a journey through Scotland, as a result of which he wrote one of his most beautiful overtures. "Die Hebriden" (The Hebrides, op. 26).
Always somewhat unpopular in Berlin, he, on his return to that city in 1833, failed in competition with Rungenhagen to obtain the conductorship of the Singakademie. In May of the same year, however, he was invited to conduct the Lower Rhine Musical Festival at Düsseldorf, in which city he remained as musical director until 1835, when he accepted the conductorship of the Gewandhaus orchestra in Leipsic, a body with which his name was thenceforth inseparably associated. The concerts given by this famous orchestra under Mendelssohn's leadership, and with the assistance of the eminent concert-master Ferdinand David, soon enjoyed a world-wide celebrityand contributed to make Leipsic the musical center of Germany. Mendelssohn's oratorio "Paulus" (St. Paul) was performed at the Lower Rhine festival held at Düsseldorf May 22-24, 1836.
On March 28, 1837, Mendelssohn married Cécile Charlotte Sophie Jeanrenaud. A few months later he left for England to conduct "Paulus" at the Birmingham festival. On his return he devoted all his energies to the Gewandhaus concerts. At the request of Frederick William IV. of Prussia, to whom several of his compositions were dedicated, Mendelssohn in 1841 went to Berlin to act as director of certain concerts which were to be given in connection with an academy of arts planned by the king. Finding, however, that the musicians and the public were more or less hostile to him, he resigned, remaining only at the special request of the king to arrange the music in the cathedral. The body of singers selected for that occasion afterward became famous as the "Domchor" (cathedral choir). During this visit Mendelssohn conducted also the music to "Antigone," which he had composed in compliance with the king's express desire.Organizes Leipsic Conservatorium.
In conjunction with Falkenstein, Keil, Kistner, Schleinitz, and Seeburg as directors, and Schumann, Hauptmann, David, Becker, and Pohlenz as teachers, Mendelssohn in 1842 organized the Conservatorium at Leipsic, which institution, under the patronage of the King of Saxony, was opened Jan. 16, 1843. During the summer of 1844 Mendelssohn revisited London, where he conducted the last five concerts given by the Philharmonic Society in that year. He took part also as a pianist in various other musical events of the season, everywhere receiving a most enthusiastic welcome. In 1846 he once more visited England, upon which occasion he conducted the first performance of his oratorio "Elias" (Elijah) at Birmingham (Aug. 26). On April 2, 1847, he conducted "Paulus" at Leipsic, and soon afterward again went to England, where he gave four performances of "Elias" at Exeter Hall, London, besides one at Manchester and another at Birmingham.
On May 9 Mendelssohn returned to Germany. While he was at Frankfort the news of the sudden death of his sister Fanny, to whom he had been greatly attached, gave a serious shock to a constitution already enfeebled, and after visiting various health resorts the great composer returned in September to Leipsic, where about six weeks later he died. Baptized early in life, he was interred in Trinity Cemetery, Berlin.
Mendelssohn's best productions are the oratorios "Paulus" and "Elias," the greatest works of their kind since Haydn. Besides the opera "Die Hochzeit des Camacho," Mendelssohn left the unfinished opera "Lorelei," the operetta "Heimkehr aus der Fremde" (op. 89), and several other unpublished operatic compositions. Among his other works are four symphonies; the symphony-cantata "Lobgesang"; six concert-overtures; several concertos; chamber-music; and pianoforte and vocal compositions.
- S. Hensel, Die Familie Mendelssohn (1729-1847) nach Briefen und Tagebüchern, Berlin, 1879;
- Carl Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, Goethe und Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1821-1831), translated by M. E. von Glehn, London, 1872;
- F. Hiller, Mendelssohn: Letters and Recollections, translated by M. E. von Glehn, ib. 1874;
- Grove, Dict. of Music and Musicians, vol. ii., where a full list of Mendelssohn's compositions is given.
German geographer, born in Berlin Nov. 16, 1794; died at Horchheim, near Coblenz, Aug. 24, 1874; son of Joseph Mendelssohn. As a child he went to Hamburg with his parents, but he began his studies at Berlin in 1811, although they were interrupted by the campaigns of 1813 and 1815. After 1828, being appointed privat-docent in geography and statistics at the University of Bonn, he gradually rose to the position of regular professor there. He edited the "Gesammelte Schriften" of his grandfather with a biographical sketch (Leipsic, 1843-45), and also published "Das Germanische Europa" (Berlin, 1836) as well as "Die Ständischen Institutionen im Monarchischen Staat" (Bonn, 1846).Henriette (Sorel) Mendelssohn:
Youngest daughter of Moses Mendelssohn; born at Berlin 1768; died there Nov. 9, 1831. She was a woman of broad interests, clear judgment, and exquisite manners; she remained unmarried, being, like her father, slightly deformed. She first devoted herself to teaching in her sister Recha's school in Altona, but in 1799 entered a Jewish family in Vienna as governess. After a few years, however, probably on the invitation of her brother Abraham, she went to Paris, where she was at the head of a boarding-school. Her modest apartments were the rendezvous of scholars and artists: Spontini, Madame de Staël, and Benjamin Constant were among her frequent visitors, while the two Humboldts, Von Eskeles of Vienna, and others visited her whenever they were in Paris. In the year 1812 she became governess to the daughter of Count Sebastiani and remained in the count's house until the marriage of her pupil to the Duke of Praslin, who became the murderer of his wife. Henriette, "the deepest and most thoughtful," as Rachel Levin called her, was indignant at her sister Dorothea's change of faith. Yet the course of action which she could not forgive in her sister, she later chose for herself, becoming not only a Catholic, but a bigot.
- Kayserling, Die Jüdischen Frauen, pp. 197 et seq.;
- S. Hensel, Die Familie Mendelssohn, i. 55 et seq.
German banker, born at Berlin Aug. 11, 1770; died there Nov. 24, 1848; the eldest son of Moses Mendelssohn. He was highly talented, and was educated in the Talmud by Herz Homberg and in languages and science by Fischer, Engel (the tutor of the two Humboldts), and others. He attended the "Morgenstunden" given by his father, and the lectures on physics by Markus Herz and those on chemistry by Klaproth. He established himself at Hamburg, and afterward, together with his brother Abraham, founded the banking firm of Mendelssohn & Co. at Berlin. From early youth he was an intimate friend of Alexander von Humboldt, who came one day and said that his landlord had served a notice on him to vacate, which was very inconvenient for him because of his natural-history collections. Joseph listened in silence. On theafternoon of the same day Humboldt received a letter saying he might live in his present house as long as he pleased, Mendelssohn having bought the house and become his landlord.
Even in his latter years Mendelssohn busied himself with literature and science. He published "Berichte über Rosseti's Ideen zu einer Neuen Erläuterung des Dante und der Dichter Seiner Zeit" (Berlin, 1840) and "Ueber Zettelbanken" (ib. 1846). His father's biography, published by his son G. B. Mendelssohn, was largely Joseph's own work.
His son Alexander (died at Berlin Oct. 25, 1871) was the last Jewish descendant of Moses Mendelssohn. He was at the head of the firm after his father's death. He was a noble and unusually philanthropic man, and was the first Jew to receive the title of privy commercial councilor ("Geheimer Commerzienrath").
- Kayserling, Moses Mendelssohn, Sein Leben und Wirken, 2d ed., p. 451.
German historian; born Feb. 7, 1838, in Leipsic; died Feb. 23, 1897, at Brugg, Switzerland; son of Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy. He was professor of history at Freiburg-im-Breisgau.Early Influences.
Moses Mendelssohn (Moses ben Menahem-Mendel; abbreviated RaMBeMaN); German Philosopher, translator of the Bible, and commentator; the "third Moses," with whom begins a new era in Judaism. He was called also, after his birthplace, Moses Dessau, with which name he signed his Hebrew and Judæo-German letters; born at Dessau Sept. 6, 1729; died at Berlin Jan. 4, 1786. Mendelssohn's father was a poor Torah scribe, whose exacting occupation had a marked influence on the delicate sense of form and the fine handwriting of his son. In spite of poverty, the father carefully educated the child, whose first Hebrew teacher he was, although he later engaged Rabbi Hirsch, the son of a Dessau dayyan, to instruct him in the Talmud. The boy then continued his studies under the rabbi of Dessau, David Fränkel, who introduced him to Maimonides' "Moreh Nebukim." His unremitting application to his studies brought on an illness which left him with curvature of the spine. In Oct., 1743, Mendelssohn went to Berlin, where Fränkel had been called as rabbi a few months earlier; but the desire for knowledge, which was being more and more awakened, could not be satisfied with the Talmud. A considerable influence was exerted upon the young Mendelssohn by a learned Pole, Israel Zamosz, who had been persecuted at home because of his liberal views. Zamosz instructed him in mathematics, and at the same time a young Jewish physician from Prague, Abraham Kisch, was his teacher in Latin. Mendelssohn had scarcely learned the principal rules of grammar when with his scanty earnings he bought a few of the Latin classics and an old Latin translation of Locke's "Essay Concerning the Human Understanding." This book, which had a profound influence on his future development, he tried with indescribable toil to decipher with the aid of a Latin dictionary. He found yet another teacher in Aaron Solomon Gumperz, a well-to-do Jewish medical student, who gave him lessons in French and English. Through him he acquired a taste for science and became interested in the Leibnitz-Wolffian philosophy. Gumperz, moreover, introduced him to several able young gymnasium teachers and to Maupertuis, the president, of the Berlin Academy. After seven years of privation a better time came for Mendelssohn.
A rich silk-manufacturer in Berlin, Isaac Bernhard (Bermann Zilz), engaged him in 1750 as tutor to his children; four years later he made him his bookkeeper, then his representative, and finally his partner. While conscientiously fulfilling his business duties, Mendelssohn continued unceasingly to acquire further knowledge. Without systematic schooling, almost without teachers and without guidance, he had attained great proficiency in languages, mathematics, philosophy, and poetry. "His integrity and philosophical mind make me anticipate in him a second Spinoza, lacking only his errors to be his equal," ran a letter of Oct. 16, 1754, written by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, to whom Gumperz had introduced Mendelssohn as a good chess-player.Friendship with Lessing.
This acquaintance developed into a most intimate friendship and deeply influenced Mendelssohn's development. Lessing, only a few months his senior, was the most liberal of German authors and the most uncompromising opponent of every form of intolerance. In 1749 he had placed a noble-minded Jew upon the stage in his comedy "Die Juden," which may be regarded as the forerunner of "Nathan der Weise." The claim which had been advanced by certain anti-Jewish critics, that a Jew could not possibly be worthy of respect, drove Mendelssohn to defend the honor of his race in his first literary attempt in German, a letter to Gumperz, which brought him before the public. He was then introduced into the world of letters by Lessing, who, without Mendelssohn's knowledge, published a small book which the latter had given him to read. This work, which appeared anonymously in 1755, was the "Philosophische Gespräche," wherein Mendelssohn declared himself a disciple of the school of Leibnitz and, despite his antipathy for pantheism, took sides with Spinoza. In the same year was published at Danzig the anonymous satirical treatise "Pope ein Metaphysiker," called forth by a prize offered by the Berlin Academy, and written by Mendelssohn and Lessing, both of whom eagerly defended the teachings of Leibnitz. The names of the authors did not long remain hidden. Several academicians, with whom Mendelssohn was acquainted, greeted him with marked respect; and even the court was eager to know "the young Hebrew who wrote in German." Almost contemporaneously with the "Philosophische Gespräche" he wrote the "Briefe über die Empfindungen" (Berlin, 1755; translated into French by Thomas Abbt, Geneva, 1764), which contains a philosophy of the beautiful, and which forms the basis of all philosophic-esthetic criticism in Germany. On the advice of Lessing he then made a German version of the "Discours sur l'Inégalité Parmi les Hommes," a prize essay by Rousseau, whom he greatly admired. This translation, with explanatory notes and a dedicatory letter to "Magister" Lessing, appeared at Berlin in 1756.Friendship with Nicolai.
Through Lessing, Mendelssohn in 1755 made the acquaintance of the book-dealer Friedrich Nicolai, who in the course of a few months became his intimate friend, helping him in his study of modern languages and encouraging him to learn Greek. Together with Nicolai he took lessons from Rector Damm, who was known as a good Greek scholar; and in a short time he was able to read all the works of Plato in the original without assistance of any kind (G. Malkewitz, in "Vossische Zeitung," May 29, 1881, Supplement; G. A. Kohut, "Moses Mendelssohn and Rector Damm," New York, 1892). He and Nicolai also visited the "learned coffee-house," the meeting-place of a limited circle of scholars to which Mendelssohn belonged and in which each member read a mathematical or philosophical paper every fourth week. For this society Mendelssohn prepared a treatise containing observations "Ueber die Wahrscheinlichkeit" (On Probability), which he requested a fellow member to read for him, either out of modesty or because he stammered. The substance of this paper was repeated in his "Morgenstunden."
When Nicolai projected the "Bibliothek der Schönen Wissenschaften und der Freien Künste" in 1756, Mendelssohn was asked to join its staff, and he soon became not only one of the most diligent collaborators, but the very soul of the whole undertaking. In this magazine he reviewed the latest works on esthetics and literature, and also published his own studies on esthetics. Mendelssohn, Lessing, and Nicolai began a correspondence on the subject, in which they discussed the purpose of tragedy, and the meaning of pity and fear and of terror and admiration. Upon this correspondence, by which Mendelssohn influenced directly Lessing's "Laokoon," were based two treatises by the former which first appeared in the "Bibliothek," namely, "Die Hauptgrundsätze der Schönen Künste und Wissenschaften" and "Ueber das Erhabene und Naive in den Schönen Wissenschaften." These monographs-the first was translated into Italian by C. Ferdinandi (1779) and the other into Dutch by Van Goens (1769)—must be ranked among the most important contributions to pre-Kantian esthetics.Contributions to Criticism.
At the end of the first year Mendelssohn retired from the "Bibliothek," which Nicolai soon discontinued, editing in its stead (after 1759) the "Briefe die Neueste Literatur Betreffend." The "Literaturbriefe," one of the most important publications of German journalism, were revolutionary in character. The criticism which Mendelssohn (upon whom a large part of the editorial work devolved), together with Lessing, introduced was positive, creative, and essentially German in character. Mendelssohn's judgment was always impartial, sound, and clear-sighted. He, the barely tolerated Jew, dared to use the columns of the "Literaturbriefe" to criticize even the poems of Frederick the Great (1760). The review attracted much attention; and an unprincipled scribbler, Von Justi, wishing to take revenge on the Jew and on the "Literaturbriefe" (which had criticized a book of his as it deserved), lodged a complaint against the journal. The "Literaturbriefe" were condemned; and legend has it that Mendelssohn was ordered to appear before the king at Sans Souci. He is said to have escaped the difficulty by a witty simile which inclined the king in his favor. "Whoever makes verses," he said, "plays at ninepins; and whoever plays at ninepins, be he king or peasant, must have the 'setter-up' tell him how he bowls."His Marriage.
Mendelssohn had good cause to be satisfied with his position in life. He lived independently, had faithful friends, and had already acquired a fortune, small though it was. He now wished to have a home of his own. In April, 1761, he went to Hamburg, where he was welcomed by Christian admirers, while the chief rabbi of the city, Jonathan Eybeschütz, greeted him in a very flattering letter. There he became engaged to Fromet Gugenheim (b. Oct. 6, 1737; d. at Hamburg March 16, 1812), a plain, poor, and lowly girl, whom he married in June, 1762. During his honeymoon he beganto work at the solution of a question proposed by the Berlin Academy of Sciences for a prize essay, "Ob die Metaphysischen Wissenschaften einer Solchen Evidenz Fähig Sind wie die Mathematischen." His monograph "Ueber die Evidenz der Metaphysischen Wissenschaften" received the prize of 50 ducats in June, 1763, and gained the victory over Thomas Abbt and Immanuel Kant, together with whose essays his was printed. A few months later (Oct., 1763) Mendelssohn received the privileges of a protected Jew. A very often-repeated legend tells that the privilege was given him upon the intercession of Marquis d'Argens, who said to the king: "A bad Catholic philosopher begs a bad Protestant philosopher to grant the privilege to a bad Jewish philosopher. There is too much philosophy in all this for justice not to be on the side of the request." At the same time the trustees of the Jewish community in Berlin honored him by exempting him from the payment of all Jewish taxes; and nine years later it passed a resolution that the "distinguished man" should be eligible to all positions in the community.His "Phädon."
Partly owing to the "Literaturbriefe," of which he continued to be the chief collaborator until 1765, and partly because of the prize essay which had introduced him to philosophical circles, and also on account of his other literary works, his associations with poets and philosophers in Germany and Switzerland became more and more close. He stood in especially intimate relationship to the kindly and versatile young professor Thomas Abbt, in Frankfort-on-the-Oder, and to Rinteln, then "Consistorialrath" in Bückeburg. At the request of the former, who was constantly meditating upon death, Mendelssohn began a correspondence concerning the destiny of man, and on the soul and its fate after death. This correspondence, to which Mendelssohn himself published notes, was printed in Mendelssohn's "Gesammelte Schriften," v. 230-408, and in the third volume of Abbt's works. Abbt's questions and doubts confirmed his friend's decision, reached long before, to write on the immortality of the soul, and formed the basis of his chief philosophical work, "Phädon" (1767). This follows Plato's dialogue of the same name. Mendelssohn's argument is that in the body there must be at least one substance which is neither corporeal nor composite and which unites within itself all ideas and conceptions; the soul, as this self-existing, indivisible essence, can not be destroyed. The "Phädon" was the most widely read book of its time. Its special charm was its elegant and lucid style. Never before in Germany had philosophical questions been treated in such clear language; so that his contemporaries with justice called him the "German Plato." The "Phädon" is one of the best productions of classic German prose; it was reprinted fifteen times and translated into nearly all the European languages, while a number of Hebrew versions were made. The Crown Prince of Brunswick was so delighted with it that during a visit to his royal uncle in Berlin in the autumn of 1769, he invited the author to visit him at the castle, and expressed the wish that he might induce him to come to Brunswick.
The Count and Countess of Schaumburg-Lippe became well acquainted with Mendelssohn in Pyrmont, where he lived in 1773 on account of his health, and conversed with him about death and immortality. The Berlin Academy of Sciences proposed Mendelssohn as a regular member of the philosophical division, but Frederick the Great struck his name from the list, because the Empress Catherine of Russia also wished to be elected. The queen dowager, Luise Ulrika of Sweden, Frederick's talented sister, took pleasure in conversing with Mendelssohn. No stranger of importance who came to Berlin failed to pay his personal respects to the "German Socrates," as Mendelssohn was often called after the appearance of the "Phädon."
Among those who corresponded with Mendelssohn and showed him great honor was Johann Kaspar Lavater, a preacher in Zurich, who visited the "Jew Moses" several times in 1763 and gave, in his "Physiognomik," a very interesting description of "this man with the Socratic soul." Lavater's most earnest wish was to convert the Jew who had spoken admiringly of Jesus (although with the limitation, "if Jesus of Nazareth had been content to remain only a virtuous man"), and who had demonstrated the immortality of the soul on the grounds of reason instead of the Bible. In 1769, therefore, Lavater translated the "Idées sur l'Etat Futur des Etres Vivants, ou Palingénésie Philosphique" of Charles Bonnet, a professor at Geneva, entitling his version "Untersuchung der Beweise für das Christenthum," and sent it to Mendelssohn with an introduction in which he challenged him "either to refute the book publicly, or, if he found it logical, to do what wisdom, love of truth, and honor required and what Socrates would have done if he had read the work and found it irrefutable." This rash step, distasteful to Bonnet and soon regretted by Lavater himself, made a painfulimpression upon the friends of Mendelssohn and upon all Berlin theologians, but it was most distressing to Mendelssohn himself. He, the avowed enemy of all religious disputes, owed it to his inmost conviction, to his honor, and to his reputation to make a public answer, after obtaining permission from the consistory. The latter willingly allowed him to reply, confiding in his "wisdom and modesty." Mendelssohn's answer is a model of Stoic calm and dialectic acuteness. He declared that his belief in the truths of his own religion was unshakable. "If I had changed my faith at heart," he says, "it would be most abject baseness not to wish to confess the truth according to my inmost conviction. If I were indifferent to both religions, and mocked or scorned all revelation, I should well know what wisdom would counsel, were conscience silent. What could keep me from it?" He declared, moreover, that Bonnet's book was not at all one which could convert him, and that he had read many other defenses of Christianity, written by Germans, which were far more thorough and philosophical. This "Schreiben an den Herrn Diaconus Lavater in Zürich" (Berlin, 1770; Hebrew translation with annotations by N. H. Wessely, edited by Solomon Fuchs, ib. 1892) was followed by the "Antwort an den Herrn Moses Mendelssohn zu Berlin," dated Feb. 14, 1770, with "Nacherinnerungen" by Mendelssohn (Berlin, 1770). Lavater regretted that he had involuntarily distressed "the most noble of men" and begged his forgiveness.
The dispute, however, continued. Although Bonnet regretted that he had been the innocent cause of Lavater's action, and although he assured Mendelssohn of his highest esteem, he tried to refute his arguments in a new edition which appeared in the same year, and claimed that "the Berlin Jew had copied his trashy statements from my foot-notes." Such a procedure impelled Mendelssohn to write his "Betrachtungen über Bonnets Palingenesie"; but the essay remained unfinished, and exists only as a sketch. In these observations as well as in letters to Lavater, to the Crown Prince of Brunswick, and to others, he expressed his views regarding the doctrines of Christianity. Meanwhile a succession of scribblers was meddling in the controversy, especially a Frankfort lawyer named J. B. Kölbele, who addressed to him two pamphlets (Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1770), in which spite and calumny rivaled each other. Mendelssohn made no reply. "Whoever is so obviously anxious to irritate me," he wrote to a friend, "ought to have much difficulty in succeeding." In this long controversy he found few defenders, although the theologian Semler in Halle and Professor Michaelis in Göttingen, as well as an anonymous citizen of Hamburg, who wrote "Dienstfreundlich Promemoriaes an die Welche Herrn Moses Mendelssohn Durchaus zum Christen Machen Wollen" (1771), and the satirist Lichtenberg in Göttingen, were his open partizans.Acquaintance with Herder.
This controversy seriously affected Mendelssohn's health, and compelled him in 1771 to refrain for several months from all mental activity. In July of 1773 and 1774 he went to Pyrmont to regain his health, and there he won the friendship of the reigning prince and became acquainted with Herder, who satirically remarked that "Mordecai had as large a following as the grand vizier." After he had gradually regained his physical strength, Mendelssohn resolved to carry out a cherished plan of devoting more of his intellectual activity to the Jews and Judaism. On account of his interest in philosophy and in German and esthetic literature, and owing to the failure of his first attempt to publish a weekly called "Ḳohelet Musar" (1750), he had somewhat neglected Jewish interests. In 1757 he had written a sermon on the victory of the Prussians at Rossbach, and a thanksgiving address after the battle of Leuthen, while six years later he prepared a sermon to celebrate the peace of Hubertsburg. The first of these addresses purported to have been delivered by Rabbi Fränkel, and the last by Rabbi Aaron Mosessohn in the synagogue at Berlin, and they had been published without Mendelssohn's name as author (Kayserling, "Dankpredigt und Danklieder von Moses Mendelssohn, zum Ersten Male Herausgegeben und mit Einleitung Versehen," Berlin, 1866). This sermon was translated into English at Philadelphia in 1763 ("Publ. of Am. Jew. Hist. Soc." i. 63, ii. 31, iii. 116; "Allg. Zeit. des Judenthums," lviii. 451). Besides these sermons, the first ones written and published in German by a Jew, Mendelssohn had annotated Ecclesiastes (Berlin, 1770) and written a commentary to the famous "Logic" of Maimonides, entitled "Millot ha-Higgayon." He gave the work to Samson Kalir, a Jewish scholar of Jerusalem, who had it printed (Frankfort-on-the-Oder, 1761) as his own work, but the second and all following editions appeared under Mendelssohn's name.Jewish Activities.
The controversy with Lavater opened the second period of Mendelssohn's activity, which was concerned chiefly with Judaism and the Jews. Being universally honored not only as a man, but as a metaphysician and German writer, he became, almost unconsciously, the chief representative of his coreligionists. When the Jews in Endingen and Lengnau (see
Mendelssohn, who in his feelings was both Jew and German, wished to teach his coreligionists the German language and thus to prepare them for German culture. For his own children he began to translate the Pentateuch into German; at the urgent request of Solomon Dubno, however, who prepared a Hebrew commentary for the translation, he decided to publish it under his own name, and at his own expense, and a specimen soon appeared, entitled "'Alim li-Terufah" (Amsterdam, 1778). The undertaking was greeted with marked enthusiasm by the people, not only in Germany, but in Holland, France, and England, and was joyfully welcomed by such enlightened rabbis as Hirschel Lewin and his son Saul in Frankfort-on-the-Oder, while Hartwig Wessely and Joseph Haltern composed poems in honor of the translator. On the other hand, there were those who, like Raphael Kohen in Altona and his son-in-law Hirsch Janow, placed the German translation of the Pentateuch under a ban. Toward his opponents Mendelssohn displayed a philosophic calm; for he was opposed to all controversies and especially to those with theologians—"those pugnacious proclaimers of peace," as he called them. He knew only too well "how much opposition, hatred, and persecution are called forth at all times by the slightest innovation, no matter how beneficial." The King of Denmark and the princes and leading men of the kingdom were among the subscribers to his work. Early in March, 1780, the Book of Genesis appeared, to which Dubno had written the greater part of the commentary; but a few months later this collaborator, alienated by the opponents of Mendelssohn, left him, so that he himself was obliged to prepare the entire commentary to Exodus. As assistants for the remaining parts he obtained Hartwig Wessely, Aaron Jaroslav, and Herz Homberg. The whole Pentateuch was finished in 1783, and because of its remarkable merit it created a stir even in Christian circles. At the same time the translation of the Psalms appeared—the fruit of ten years' labor—first in German characters and then in Hebrew type with a Hebrew commentary by Joel Löwe. Mendelssohn's version of the Song of Solomon, which was found among his papers, was published in 1788 by Joel Löwe and Aaron Wolfson, with a Hebrew commentary.Influence on German Judaism.
The translation of the Pentateuch had an important effect in bringing the Jews to share in the progress of the age. It aroused their interest in the study of Hebrew grammar, which they had so long despised, made them eager for German nationality and culture, and inaugurated a new era in the education of the young and in the Jewish school system. At Mendelssohn's suggestion the Jüdische Freischule was founded at Berlin in 1781, the first organized Jewish school in Germany, after which many similar institutions were modeled. There, according to the system planned by him, instruction was given not only in the Bible and the Talmud, but also in technical branches and in German and French.Plea for Emancipation.
Mendelssohn was also the first to advocate the emancipation of the Jews. When his coreligionists in Alsace, through their representative Cerfberr in Metz, requested him to prepare a petition for them to lay before the French council of state, he, seconded by Nicolai, persuaded his friend, the councilor of war, Chr. W. Dohm, to undertake the task. Thus originated the memorial "Ueber die Bürgerliche Verbesserung der Juden," which was the first monograph to discuss the question of emancipation scientifically, and in the drafting of which Mendelssohn appears personally to have had some share ("Zeitschrift für die Geschichte der Juden in Deutschland," v. 75 et seq.). The sensation produced by this work could not fail to call forth adverse criticism and new polemics against the Jews. Thereupon Mendelssohn induced his friend Markus Herz to translate the "Vindiciæ Judæorum" by the Amsterdam rabbi, Manasseh ben Israel, from English into German (Berlin, 1782), and wrote for it a preface in which he replied to the critics of Dohm's work, remonstrated with Dohm himself, and energetically opposed the ban and the canon law. Attacks upon this preface appeared in periodicals and pamphlets. Cranz, the author of "Das Forschen nach Licht und Recht," who was supported by a certain Herr Mörschel, especially assailed Mendelssohn's principles and demanded a public reply. In answer Mendelssohn wrote his celebrated epoch-making work "Jerusalem, oder über Religiöse Macht und Judenthum" (Berlin, 1783; translated into Italian, Triest, 1799; into English by M. Samuels, London, 1838, and by Isaac Leeser, Philadelphia, 1852; into Hebrew by A. B. Gottlober, Jitomir, 1867, and by P. Smolen-skin, Vienna, 1876).His "Jerusalem."
Mendelssohn's "Jerusalem," which shows frequent analogies with Spinoza's "Tractatus Theologico-Politicus," but reaches diametrically opposite results, deals in the first section with the relation of State and Church, both of which, though having different objects and methods, should promote human happiness. According to Mendelssohn, the Church has no right to own property, and Church law is essentially contradictory to the nature of religion. He again opposed energetically the right of ban and excommunication, and was the first, at least in Germany, to plead for the separation of Church and State, and for freedom of belief and conscience. In the second part he deals with Judaism, which, according to him, has, in contradistinction to Christianity, no dogma whose acceptance is necessary for salvation. With Leibnitz he differentiated between eternal truths, which are based on reason and not on supernatural revelation, and temporary, historical truths. Judaism is no revealed religion in the usual sense of the term, but only revealed legislation, laws, commandments, and regulations, which were supernaturally given to the Jews through Moses. Mendelssohn did not recognize miracles as evidences of eternal truths, nor did he formulate articles of faith; hence he did not say "I believe," but "I recognizethat to be true." "The spirit of Judaism is freedom in doctrine and conformity in action." Accordingly he very curiously defined the ceremonial law as "a kind of writ, living, quickening the mind and heart, full of meaning, and having the closest affinity with speculative religious knowledge." This is the indissoluble bond which is forever to unite all those who are born into Judaism. "What divine law has ordained can not be repealed by reason, which is no less divine," is Mendelssohn's reply to all those who wished to release the Jews from the Law by sophistry. "Jerusalem," on its appearance, met with little favor, yet Kant, then at the zenith of his reputation, called it an "irrefutable book" and regarded it as "the proclamation of a great reform, which, however, will be slow in manifestation and in progress," and which, as he wrote Mendelssohn, "will affect not only your nation, but others as well."Attitude Toward Reform.
A host of reviewers, among whom the Berlin theologians Zöllner, Uhle, and others, together with many insignificant scribblers, condemned "Jerusalem," while they decried its author as a rationalist or even as an atheist. The Jews were little more pleased. Since, on the one hand, he recognized the basal principle of Judaism to be freedom of thought and belief, and, on the other, placed its whole essence in the ceremonial law, both the Orthodox party and the reformers claimed him as their own. He was conservative by nature, and wished to abolish religious abuses, such as untimely burial; but he stood immovably upon the foundation of the ancestral religion. It was through no fault of his that his disciples took different roads, and that several of his children renounced Judaism after his death.His "Morgenstunden."
On Feb. 15, 1781, Lessing, Mendelssohn's best and dearest friend, died. Though in his last years he had written to Mendelssohn but seldom, yet he had erected a noble monument to his friend in "Nathan der Weise," taking as the model for his hero Mendelssohn himself (Kayserling, "Moses Mendelssohn," 2d ed., p. 344, and the bibliography on "Nathan" on p. 342). After Lessing's death Mendelssohn formed a close friendship with the brother-in-law of Elise Reimarus in Hamburg, Mendelssohn's best woman friend. This was the young August von Hennings, who lived for a few years in Berlin as secretary of the legation and who visited Mendelssohn almost daily, afterward carrying on an active correspondence with him (for his letters see Kayserling, "Moses Mendelssohn," 1st ed., pp. 519 et seq., and "Zeitschrift für die Geschichte der Juden in Deutschland," i. 111 et seq.). For a short time Mendelssohn was intimate with Herder, to whom he first disclosed his intention of writing a biography of Lessing. He afterward learned through Elise Reimarus that the philosopher F. H. Jacobi, an admirer of Bonnet and a friend of Lavater, had revealed this plan to her, and told her that Lessing in his later years had been an ardent disciple of Spinoza. A new struggle with another opponent confronted him, but before entering upon a contest with Jacobi, Mendelssohn, now weak and sickly, wished to set forth his own fundamental metaphysical beliefs and to refute pantheism. He did this in the lectures which he delivered for his children, for the two Humboldts, and for others, and which appeared under the title "Morgenstunden oder Vorlesungen über das Dasein Gottes" (Berlin, 1785; second enlarged edition, ib. 1786; translated into Italian, Triest, 1843; into Hebrew, Königsberg, 1845). Before Jacobi had received this work, he had already published his "Ueber die Lehren des Spinoza, in Briefen an Herrn Moses Mendelssohn," in which he recklessly attacked Mendelssohn. Despite his dislike for personal quarrels, the latter could not leave this challenge unanswered, and he replied in an article, "An die Freunde Lessings," in which he once more defended his friend. On the very day on which he took the manuscript to his publisher he caught cold, and a stroke of apoplexy brought his life to a close.
The celebration of the hundredth anniversary of his birth, like that of his death, was general. The city of Dessau erected a monument to him, and one of his great-grandsons donated in his memory a scholarship-fund of 150,000 marks to the University of Berlin.
An incomplete collection of his works was published at Ofen 1819-21, and, in one volume, at Vienna1838; the first complete edition, with a biography by Joseph Mendelssohn, which contains also many of Moses' letters, was published in conformity with the wishes of the family (Leipsic, 1843-45). A collection of his works on philosophy, esthetics, and apologetics was published by M. Brasch (Leipsic, 1880). There are several portraits of him by Graff, Frisch, Rode, and Chodowiecki.
Moses Mendelssohn left three sons, Joseph, Abraham, and Nathan, and three daughters, Dorothea, Recha, and Henriette, whose biographies, together with those of some of their children, are given here.
- Euchel, Toledot Rambeman, Berlin, 1786 (the first biography of Mendelssohn);
- Kayserling, Moses Mendelssohn, Sein Leben und Seine Werke, Leipsic, 1862 (2d ed. 1888);
- idem, Moses Mendelssohn, Ungedrucktes und Unbekanntes von Ihm und über Ihn, ib. 1883.
Youngest son of Moses Mendelssohn; born at Berlin Dec. 9, 1782; died there Jan. 9, 1852; married Henriette Itzig, youngest daughter of Daniel Itzig. He devoted himself to mechanics, and was the first German to pursue studies in this subject in England and France. He occupied a number of positions during his lifetime. From 1808 to 1813 he was a mechanician in Berlin; from 1813 to 1821, an officer in the militia; and from 1821 until 1825, a manufacturer in Silesia. He then became tax-collector in Glatz and Liegnitz, and in 1836 was appointed inspector of the chief mint in Berlin. Mendelssohn manufactured various instruments, some of which were of his own invention, and which much impressed Alexander von Humboldt by their excellence. At the instance of Humboldt he received a state subsidy for the construction of a dividing-machine which he completed in 1810.
Of a mechanical journal published by Mendelssohn, only a few numbers appeared. Until the end of his life he maintained an active interest in the promotion of industries and manufactures, as well as of art and science. He gave the first impulse to the foundation of the Polytechnic Society of Berlin, before which he lectured on photography, galvano-plastic art, electromagnetism, telegraphy, and kindred subjects.
- J. Löwenberg, in Vossiche Zeitung (Berlin), Oct. 7, 1883.
Daughter of Abraham Mendelssohn; born at Hamburg April 11, 1811. She was distinguished for her keenness of intellect and her brilliant wit. She was a gifted linguist and acquired such an exact knowledge of Greek that even in her later years she could read Homer and Plato without difficulty. In May, 1832, she married Lejeune-Dirichlet, professor of mathematics at the University of Berlin, who had been introduced into Mendelssohn's house by Humboldt (Hensel, l.c. vols. i.-iii.).Recha (Reikel) Mendelssohn:
Second daughter of Moses Mendelssohn; born at Berlin 1766; married Mendel Meyer, the son of her father's intimate friend, the court-banker Nathan Meyer, in Mecklenburg-Strelitz. The marriage was not a happy one and was soon dissolved. Recha, a bright and clever but sickly woman, then established a boarding-school for girls in Altona, and later lived at Berlin in close association with her brother Abraham (Hensel, l.c. i. 55).
- Kayserling, Moses Mendelssohn, p. 538.