The Life of ABRAHAM ISRAEL
As it is a very ordinary case for fiction to be imposed on the world for truth, so it sometimes happens that truth hath such extraordinary circumstances attending it, as well nigh bring it to pass for fiction. The adventures of this unhappy man, who was a Hebrew by nation, have something in them strange, and which excite pity; for a man must be wanting in humanity who can look upon a young person endowed with the natural advantage of a good genius, lightened by the acquired accomplishments of learning, fall of a sudden from an honest and reputable behaviour into debauchery, wickedness and rapine, methods that lead to certain destruction, and as it were to drag men to violent and shameful deaths.
This unfortunate person, Abraham Israel, was born of parents of the Hebrew nation, of good character and in good circumstances, at Presburg, in the kingdom of Hungary. They were exceedingly desirous of giving their son a good education, and therefore sent him to study in the Jewish College at Prague, in Bohemia, where they allowed him about two hundred pounds Stirling a year. He improved under the tuition of the rabbis there to a great degree, insomuch that he was admired by them as a prodigy of learning. His behaviour in every other way being unblamable, and therefore not spending above half what his father sent him, he distributed the rest among the indigent scholars there, of all nations and religions. As a mark of his early and polite genius, we have thought proper to entertain our readers with a short description of the city of Prague, which he wrote in the German tongue, and which on this occasion we have ventured to translate into English.
Prague is the capital of the Kingdom of Bohemia, which, as if protected by nature, is encompassed round with high mountains. Throughout all Europe there is no soil in general more fertile or better adapted to the plough. The fruits there are excellent and great quantities of fowl are plentiful almost to excess, the cattle are large and excellent. In fine nothing is poor, wretched or miserable there except the people, who are slaves to their lords, and never enjoy even the fruits of their own hard labour. But to return to Prague, it is a city situated on a hill, part of it stretching down the plain, having the river Muldau running through it. The buildings are of so large extent that this city is divided into three, and by some into four cities. The old city lies on the east of the river, is exceedingly populous, and houses in that quarter fair, but old-fashioned. Here is the quarter assigned unto our nation (i.e., the Jews) where we enjoy greater privileges and are treated with more lenity than in any other part of Germany. The heads of our people deal to very great advantage in jewels and precious stones dug out of the Bohemian mines. The lesser town on the other side of the river is more beautiful in its building than the old town, has fine gardens and stately palaces, among which there is the famous one of Count Wallenstein, the magnificence of which, may be the better guessed from our knowing that a hundred houses were pulled down to make room for it. Its hall is thought one of the finest in all Europe, its gardens are wonderfully stately, and the stables which he built here for his horses are almost beyond description, marble pillars parted the standing of each horse from another. The racks were of polished steel, and their mangers of the finest marble, and over the head of each stand was placed the figure of each horse, as large as the life. This famous man who was the greatest captain of his time, after having built this sumptuous palace, re-established the Emperor's power, almost utterly broken by the Swedes, growing at last too powerful for a subject, or as the Germans say, endeavouring to make himself master of the Kingdom of Bohemia, he was, if not by the command, at least by the connivance of the Emperor Ferdinand, privately assassinated in the city of Egra, in the year 1634, by certain Irish officers, in whom he reposed the greatest confidence. Since his time Prague has seen no greater powerful persons among her countrymen; on the contrary, the inhabitants now in general are poor, their habits mean, the Hebrew nation being obliged, both men and women, to wear a particular garb. Its streets are dirty, and nothing but the Imperial Palace preserves anything of its ancient grandeur; the same fate hath befallen the other Bohemian cities, and thus in a land of Paradise the people live like slaves.
When at the age of thirteen, the unfortunate Abraham was recalled by his father from college, at his return home, every one was surprised at that prodigious knowledge which he had acquired while at Prague. Those of their nation who resided at Presburg desired Abraham's father that his son might, according to the custom of the Hebrews, read in the synagogue, which accordingly he did with great and deserved applause. His relations, and the rich Jews of the town, loaded him the next day with valuable presents, in order to show their veneration for the religion and learning of their ancestors; but these encouragements being heaped on a vain and ambitious temper, were the ruin of a youth hitherto virtuous in his conduct and passionately fond of learning. For growing on a sudden conceited with his own abilities, puffed up with the vanity of having excelled his equals, he began to addict himself to acquire higher accomplishments, grew fond of music, delighted in dancing-schools, would needs be taught fencing and riding, and from the studies preparative to making a grave rabbi, jumped all of a sudden to the qualities necessary to finish a Jewish fop.
His relations soon showed by the alteration of their conduct how little they approved of his new state of life, but that signified nothing to him, he still went on at his old rate; until at last perceiving his parents would do nothing for him, he went with an idle woman to Amsterdam. There he was uneasy, not knowing what course of life to take, but at last submitted to wearing a livery, and got into service. He behaved himself amongst the Spanish Jews so well that they gave him a recommendation to Baron Swaffo in England, upon which he came over thither, and entered into his service. He recommended him to Mr. Jacob Mendez da Costa, where he Stayed for some time, with a good character as a diligent servant. From him he went to Mr. Villareal on College Hill. It seems that while he continued at the Hague, he fell in love with a young woman there, who continually ran in his head after his coming over hither. As soon, therefore, as he got money enough, he went over to the Hague, on purpose to make her a visit. When he came there, he found she was gone, which made him very uneasy, yet he resolved not to go to Amsterdam, whither he heard she went from the Hague.
However, it was not long before she was thrown in his way, for upon his coming over again to London, where he got into the service of Mr. Jacob Mendez da Costa, he heard at a barber's shop of a young maid just brought over from Holland who was then at her uncle's in St. Mary Axe, not knowing where to get a place. Upon enquiring her name, he found it to be his old acquaintance and mistress at the Hague. It was not long before he turned out the cook at the place where he lived, and brought her home in her place.
For a while she behaved like an honest and industrious servant, but one night as Abraham went to bed, he saw her opening an escrutoire with a knife, which she said she could at any time do. Abraham at first forbid her, but she by her endearments, quickly brought him over to her party, insomuch that after having lain with her, he consented to rummage the escrutoire. In it they found diamond rings and other jewels to a very great value. The wench said to him, holding up a fine diamond ring, "Abraham, you might take this, and it would prove the making of us both." But the fellow would not listen to her. However, they agreed to take five guineas, which when they had done, they went to bed together according to custom.
Sometime after they begged a holiday and going out borrowed some more money from the same bank, but staying out all night she lost her place, whereupon she went back to her uncle's, and afterwards got a place in Winchester Street. There Abraham visited her, and suspecting that she was with child, asked her very gravely and kindly whether it were so or not? She said, "No", and pretended to want money, upon which he turned back and gave her a guinea. Some time after he came to see her again, asked her the same question, and had the same answer, yet in a few hours after she caused him to be apprehended by the parish officers, the expenses whereof cost him five guineas immediately, and he was obliged to deposit fourteen guineas more as a security that he would indemnify the parish.
This threw him out of his place, and though he got into another, and behaved well in it, yet going into the service of Mr. John Mendez da Costa, he became there so uneasy on account of his child, and some other troublesome affairs, that he ventured on stealing eight silver spoons, five silver forks, two pair of silver canisters, a diamond ring value two hundred and fifty pounds, a pair of diamond ear-rings worth ninety pounds, three diamond buckles, and other goods of a great value. For this fact he was prosecuted, and on very full evidence convicted.
Under sentence of death, the Ordinary informs us that he appeared to be better acquainted with Hebrew than is common amongst Jews. He came up to the chapel rather for the air than for devotion. However, he one day sung part of a Psalm. His hatred against his prosecutor was strong and unconquerable, for when the minister told him it was his duty to forgive him, he said he did not know whether it was or no according to their law, and sometimes said that Heaven might deal with the same justice by him hereafter, as he had been dealt with here.
As the time of his death approached, he grew graver, and read more constantly in those books he had in Hebrew characters of his own religion. However, he wrote a letter to the gentleman he robbed in very harsh terms, and applied to him some of the imprecations of the hundred and ninth Psalm. At the place of execution he had two men with him, who were muttering something or other in his ear. He had a little Hebrew prayer-book in his hand, and read in it. When being again persuaded to forgive his prosecutor, he at last, in a faint voice, answered that he did, and then submitted to his fate at Tyburn, on the 12th of May, 1730, being then about twenty-two years of age. He had several relations who had a great deal of money in England, and they took care of his body.
Source: Hayward, Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals