Moses Samuel (1795-1860)

by Saul Marks


Moses Samuel (1795-1860)

Moses Samuel was a watchmaker and Hebrew scholar, born in London in 1795. His father, Emanuel (Menachem) Samuel (c.1755-c.1800), had emigrated from Kempen, in the province of Posen, Poland, and settled in London c.1775. His father having died, Moses and his mother, Hannah (Hinde; 1752-1822), moved to Liverpool in 1805, where his elder brothers had already settled. He had very little formal education but was an outstanding linguist and is said to have mastered twelve languages, including Chinese! He established a business as a watchmaker and silversmith in Liverpool, and married Harriet Israel (1793-1843) in 1821. They had two daughters and three sons; the sons married three daughters of Schreiner Wolfe of Great Yarmouth, who was the first mayor of Kimberley in the northern Cape Colony, South Africa.

Samuel studied the philosophy of Moses Mendelssohn, whom he called “the grand luminary of science and knowledge” and became the leading interpreter and translator of Mendelssohn’s work in English. He published English editions of Mendelssohn’s Jerusalem (1838) and the celebrated correspondence between Mendelssohn and Lavater, published as part of the former’s memoirs.
Samuel also translated the Book of Jasher (1840) into English. This was falsely alleged to be an ancient Hebrew text, but he still sold his translation for £150 to be published in New York. Sadly, due to a disagreement with his publisher over the authenticity of the Book, Samuel’s name does not appear on it. Although his translation was accepted as accurate, many scholars criticised the claims of the text.
Samuel fought hard against Christian proselytisation within the Jewish community, publishing anti-missionary pamphlets in 1819, 1822 and 1827. He campaigned for Jewish emancipation, and it was during a meeting about this in 1840 that he collapsed for the first time, probably due to a stroke. In 1845, a second attack would leave him paralysed. Nevertheless, he persisted in his literary work and earned a living as a language teacher in his later years.

Although Liberal in his politics, Samuel was strictly observant of orthodox Judaism. He opposed the growth of the Reform movement, but he did accept some innovations in synagogue ritual, such as sermons in English. In 1846-7, in conjunction with the minister to the Liverpool Jewish community, DM Isaacs, Samuel edited Kos Yeshuot (“Cup of Salvation”), which was a monthly magazine “devoted to the advocacy of Orthodox Jewish principles”, in which many contributions appeared in Hebrew with English translations. The magazine’s publication of original articles in Hebrew on secular subjects was unusual for the period, particularly in England, and a good example of these is one by Samuel himself, celebrating the railway engine.

Unlike his brother Louis Samuel (1794-1859), Moses remained a poor man, although he did compile a library of rare Hebrew books. He died at Ranelagh Place, Mount Pleasant, on 17 April 1860, leaving an estate of under £100. His jewellery and watchmaking business had taken very much a back seat to his linguistic and political work, and suffered badly in the process. However, by the turn of the 20th century, his son, Walter Samuel (1829-63) and his wife Harriet (1836-1908) transformed it into the first and most successful multiple-shop jeweller’s in Britain: H Samuel (named after Harriet). Moses’ great-grandson, Gilbert Samuel Edgar, served as company chairman from 1935-78. In a far cry from Moses’ orthodox Jewish roots, one of his descendants included a Roman Catholic priest, Father Edward Hill, along with a Metropolitan Police magistrate, Geoffrey George Raphael. His great-nephew was Herbert Louis Samuel, the first Viscount Samuel.

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Other Sources
- D’Arcy Hart, RJ (1958, ed), “The Samuel Family of Liverpool and London from 1755 Onwards”, Routledge & Kegan Paul. No ISBN.
- Wolf, L (1901) “History and Genealogy of the Jewish Families of Yates and Samuel of Liverpool”, London. No ISBN.

Grave References
Moses Samuel (1795-1860): A 05.22
Harriet Samuel (née Israel, his wife; 1793-1843): A 01.26
Walter Samuel (their son; 1829-1863): A 06.19