Leone da Modena and his English Correspondents

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IN 1926 I presented before the Jewish Historical Society of England a lengthy paper on Leone da Modena and England, subsequently published in its Transactions.2 It might have been rationally imagined that this exhausted all that could be said on the subject. But the student knows that this is always unlikely, as fresh material even on the most recondite topic is constantly coming to light. In 1943, the Bodleian Library acquired a collection of letters addressed to John Seiden, which I consulted with some eagerness in the hope of tracing the letter from Modena mentioned in the list of the former's correspondence in the British Museum.3 I failed in my quest, and as a matter of fact I do not believe that this letter ever existed. But on the other hand I found some other unexpected material on the relations between the two.

A fair number of the letters in this collection were written by Sir William Boswell, English Ambassador at The Hague, and a close friend of Selden's. The most interesting is one of 20th September 1636, which begins as follows :-

Bodleian Library, Oxford.
Ms. Seiden Supra, 108 : f. 250-1.

Letter from Sir William Boswell to John Seiden :

The Hague, 20th September 1636.


You will receive heerinclosed letters from B. Elzivere (a very great servant of yours, printer of Leyden) concerning (as he tells mee) a Reimpression he hath in hand of your De Jure Successionum apud Hebreos, wherein you were pleased to take notice of mee above my merit, & upon my occasion of Leon Modena Rabi of the Jewes Synagogue in Venise, whom I gave for dead long since of the last great plague (about four yr. since in those parts) until about 4 months I received a letter from him brought me by one of his owne tribe, about 6 mo : after date thereof, in which how sensible the old blade is of being quoted by so worthy a hand, with what confidence he speaks of atteyning immortality &c. (all which, meethink, well become him) you will perceive by copie thereof, which I send herein, because fallen accidentally with my eye as I received this other of Elzevire for you and referring to the same argument, especially to put you in mind, that if you shall think good to require his service in any kind, which you knowe him propre for ... I shall take your command for a favour . . .

In fact, Boswell did not enclose a copy of the letter received from Modena, as he said he would, but the original, in the Italian rabbi's well-known hand. This must, I think, be the letter from 'Leon Modena Rabi Hebreo, Italice,' noted in the British Museum list of Selden's correspondence; the signature corresponds almost exactly to this phrase. The occasion for writing it is indicated in a conceited little passage

1 Paper read before the Jewish Historical Society of England on 17th January 1946.


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