A Hebrew poem on the death of Nelson

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The destruction of the French fleet at Trafalgar marked the turning of the tide in the Napoleonic wars, and the death of Nelson in the hour of victory has continued to affect the hearts of his countrymen down the two centuries that have followed it.1 Several Jews saw action there under his command, one of them (according to family tradition) actually on HMS Victory,2 and another, Benjamin da Costa, as a naval officer.3 In the years immediately after the battle it inspired a number of English poems, some with musical settings - most of the poems, as might be expected, evincing no great liter? ary merit. G. Richards' Monody on ... Nelson^ composed in heroic couplets, contains nothing memorable or particularly moving, and reads like an academic exercise. A Jewish counterpart by Nathan Isaac Vallentine was published in 1806, under the Hebrew title "HDtP? ('Breakers of the Sea') and in English 'The Discourse of the Three Sisters Respecting the Fall and Murder of Admiral Nelson';5 because of its rarity, it is reprinted as an appendix below (on pages 89-93). And despite their deplorable short-

1 To mark the arrival at Portsmouth of the Victory bearing Nelson's body a special service was held at Bevis Marks Synagogue on 5 December 1805, copies of the order for which were circu? lated to other London congregations, and at which Raphael Meldola, the Haham, delivered a sermon (Spanish & Portuguese Jews Congregation, Mahamad minutes, 1805/5566, MS 109). I am grateful to Miss Miriam Rodrigues Pereira for drawing my attention to this.

2 C. Roth, 'Jews in the Defence of Britain', Trans JHSE 15 (1946) 9.

3 The Gentleman s Magazine, 1854, p. 445, records his death on 2 March as that of one of the last surviving officers who fought at Trafalgar. Noted by A. M. Hyamson, 'The Jewish Obituaries in the Gentlemans Magazine \ Misc. JHSE 4 (1942) 39. He was not in fact an officer, but joined HMS Temeraire as an able seaman on 10 June 1805 aged 23 (possibly an approximate figure), was promoted midshipman on 14 July, and discharged on 14 January 1806 (Muster, Adm. 36-15851, National Archives, Kew: I am grateful to Mr Geoffrey Green for this information). There are many Benjamin da Costas listed in the birth and circumcision registers of the Spanish & Portuguese Jews' Congregation of London (M. Rodrigues-Pereira and C. Loewe [eds] Bevis Marks Records 5 [1993]), but none of them in or around 1782. Green,' "England expects..." British Jews Under the White Ensign from HMS Victory to the loss of HMS Hood in 1941', JHS 41 (2007) 63-4, n. 2, records the presence at Trafalgar of nine other Jews on the lower deck: Moses Benjamin (Victory), Joseph Manuel, Nathan Manuel, Henry Levi, Benjamin Solomon (Britannia), Philip Emanuel (Colossus), John Benjamin (Royal Sovereign), James Brandon (killed in action) and Thomas Brandon (Revenge).

4 Oxford, 1805. Copy in the British Library, pressmark RB 23 B 3145.

5 C. Roth, Magna Bibliothec a Anglo-Judaic a (London 1937) B. 13. 8, p. 341.


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