A pioneering philosemite: Charlotte Elizabeth Tonna (1790-1846) and the Jews*

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It is perhaps fitting that a lecture named in honour of a noted Jewish female writer should have as its subject on this occasion a noted non-Jewish female writer. Both started their literary careers as authors of instructive material in their respective creeds. Both were keen students of Hebrew. Their lives over? lapped, albeit very briefly: Charlotte Elizabeth Tonna died when Katie Lady Magnus was a toddler.

Lady Magnus (i 844-1924) was the daughter of Emanuel Emanuel, the first Jewish Mayor of Portsmouth (1866-7). Until the Municipal Offices Act (1845) the presence of Jews on town councils was technically illegal, because municipal office-holders were obliged to swear on the 'true faith of a Christian'. But Ports? mouth's Corporation, in common with the civic authorities of Southampton and Birmingham, had for several years turned a blind eye to that requirement so that Jews could participate. Emanuel Emanuel was a well-respected manufacturing jeweller - he would eventually make the Corporation a new set of regalia - and a popular 'councilman'. In 1843 he unexpectedly lost his seat on the Council, despite the uncanvassed votes of the town's elite, because too many supporters had been deterred by a sudden rumour that he faced a ?50 fine for every council decision in which he was involved. The following year, in which his daughter Katie was born, he was decisively returned in a hard-fought though good natured campaign. When he heard local church bells pealing in jubilation at his victory he was astounded, the more so because his Anglican opponent was an active churchworker. 'This is conclusive proof, Emanuel wrote, 'that all those religious prejudices are gone, and men are now judged by their conduct'.1

The goodwill displayed reflected the spirit of the age - an increasingly enlightened spirit in which the campaign for Jewish parliamentary emancipation was gaining ground. Even some of the most redoubtable religiously-minded champions of Parliament as an exclusively Christian assembly were softening. Charlotte Elizabeth Tonna, who had believed that the presence of Jewish legis? lators would be 'to abandon altogether our distinctive character as a Christian nation' was among them.2 But her new-found attitude did not arise from liberal? ism and it surpassed tolerance. It arose from a deep, spiritual conviction and a profound admiration for Jews which made her into a most remarkable philosem ite, in many respects ahead of her time.

Mrs Tonna was an influential British author and editor. Like Lord Shaftes bury, a personal acquaintance, she was a Tory radical and an Evangelical. She was, indeed, one of the most prominent Evangelical crusaders of her time, well known to and well respected by leading clergymen, yet neglected in this respect by historians, probably on account of her gender. As a novelist she is believed to have influenced her younger and better-remembered contemporary, Mrs Eliz? abeth Gaskell. While her moralistic style fell out of favour by the end of the nineteenth century, she has never been entirely forgotten by scholars of literat? ure, especially with regard to her several novels

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