Open main menu

Deutsch, Emanuel Oscar Menahem (DNB00)

DEUTSCH, EMANUEL OSCAR MENAHEM (1829–1873), Semitic scholar, was born at Neisse in Silesia, 28 Oct. 1829, and at the age of six entered the local gymnasium. Two years later his education was entrusted to his uncle, Rabbi David Deutsch of Mislowitz, a learned Talmudist, who subjected his pupil to a truly Spartan discipline. Winter and summer he had to rise at five o'clock, and his whole day was devoted to study, save half an hour for exercise and recreation. At thirteen he returned to Neisse, where, since he had attained the necessary standard for his final examination at the gymnasium before the prescribed period, the usual rules were relaxed in his favour, and he was allowed to proceed to the theological faculty of the university of Berlin at the age of sixteen. There he supported himself by giving lessons, and a little later by contributing Jewish tales and poems to German magazines, until in 1855 he was selected, at the recommendation of the publishers Asher, for the post of assistant in the library of the British Museum. Seldom has the ‘department of printed books’ acquired the services of so variously accomplished a man. A Hebrew scholar of the first rank he was also an excellent classic, and had gained such insight into ancient Greece as only Boeckh could impart; he had taken his Latin from Meineke, his history from Ranke, while Von Hagen had initiated him into the charmed fairy land of old German poetry and legend. For fifteen years he did helot's work at the museum, while his leisure was devoted to articles for Smith's ‘Dictionary of the Bible’ (‘Targums,’ ‘Samaritan Pentateuch’), Kitto's ‘Cyclopædia of Biblical Literature’ (‘Semitic Languages’), and a long series of contributions to Chambers's ‘Cyclopædia.’ His first and last great success, however, was the famous essay on the ‘Talmud,’ in the ‘Quarterly Review’ of October 1867 (cxxiii. 246), which created an extraordinary sensation, as much by the vigour and richness of its language as by the novelty of its subject. Thenceforward he was besieged with applications for lectures and articles; he delivered courses of lectures at the Royal Institution 1868, the Midland Institute and elsewhere, and his excessive labours, joined to habitual neglect of ordinary precautions of health, undermined a naturally robust constitution. A visit to Egypt and Palestine, suggested by an invitation from Nubar Pasha to be present at the opening of the Suez Canal in the spring of 1869, furnished excitement rather than rest, and after his return renewed activity in lecturing and writing confirmed the terrible malady which was then taking root in his system. It was at this time that he wrote his article on ‘Islam’ in the October ‘Quarterly’ (cxxvii. 254), in which, despite the epigrammatic brilliancy of the style and the imaginative glow which were inseparable from his writings, a marked falling off from the ‘Talmud’ essay was clearly discernible. Like too many ‘sequels’ it failed to sustain the reputation which the earlier article had created. The ‘Talmud’ was practically introduced by the brilliant Hebrew scholar for the first time to English readers; Islam was well understood before, and Deutsch was not a sufficiently good Arabist to add materially to what had been previously discovered. Still further removed from his proper studies were the striking articles he contributed to the ‘Times’ of September-November 1869 on the œcumenical council. He wrote with the bitter memories of a Jew, and his retrospect of papal history at once startled and fascinated by its wealth of imagery and its unsparing irony. In 1870 his health visibly broke down; the dull routine of official work, augmented by private study at night, destroyed what little health remained, and a last despairing journey to Egypt was ineffectual to cure what was indeed incurable. He died of cancer at Alexandria 12 May 1873, still young, with the promise of his life unfulfilled. Of the breadth of his acquirements it is impossible to give an adequate idea in few words. His true place in Hebrew scholarship was to have been decisively established by a great work, never completed, on the Talmud, of which the ‘Quarterly’ article was but the foretaste; but his lecture on ‘Semitic Palæography,’ 1866, his writings on Phœnician inscriptions, the Moabite Stone, &c., demonstrate an epigraphist of a high order, and his numerous articles on Semitic subjects in the ‘Saturday Review,’ ‘Athenæum,’ and other journals, reveal extensive reading and wide grasp of oriental history and philosophy. In whatever he wrote his vividly poetic nature asserted itself; his prose is the prose of a poet and musician. Little as he accomplished, at least he opened many doors for others to enter; had he spared himself more, he would himself have been spared to vindicate his title to fellowship with the highest scholars.

[Lit. Remains of E. Deutsch, with Memoir [by Lady Strangford], 1874; personal knowledge.]

S. L-P.