Home » Antisemitism » Myths and Stereotypes of “the Jew” in the Tablet (1850-1900)

Myths and Stereotypes of “the Jew” in the Tablet (1850-1900)

The Tablet was the main English Catholic weekly newspaper during the second half of the nineteenth century. It was founded in 1840 by Frederick Lucas, a convert to Catholicism from Quakerism. A year later, Lucas took on John Cox, a Protestant, as a partner at the Tablet. Lucas’s advocacy of Catholic causes, and his criticisms of Protestantism, alienated John Cox. By 1843, the paper was solely in the hands of Lucas, and it remained under his editorship until he passed away in 1855. It quickly established itself as a dedicated English Catholic newspaper. In a number of articles, editorials, and letters in the Tablet during the Lucas years, the Jews were portrayed as usurers, and plunderers of Christian civilization. English Protestants were described as enemies of “Christianity all over the world,” and as allies to the Jews. According to the Tablet, the English Protestants handed churches and convents over to the Jews to plunder, and embraced in brotherhood, non-conformists, Jews, Hindus and Muslims, whilst excluding Catholics, or reducing them to slavery. The Tablet also contained deprecating references to “Pharisees” and “Deicides”. In some cases, these labels were used in purely religious discussions, but in other instances, they were used as symbols and metaphors for Protestants. For example, in 1851, the Tablet criticized the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, claiming that he praised the Reformation, and denounced Catholicism as fanatical, cruel and superstitious. According to the Tablet, the Lord Lieutenant makes his choices, in the “spirit of the Deicides of Jerusalem.”

When Frederick Lucas passed away in October 1855, John Wallis, a convert to Catholicism from Anglicanism, purchased the paper. Under Wallis, the Tablet was on good terms with the Archbishop of Westminster, and became a semi-official forum for the publication of papal documents. During his proprietor-editorship, articles and editorials continued to lament that Catholics were not only treated worse than other Christians, but also worse than Jews. For example, in June 1857, the newspaper argued that whilst English Catholics have been faithful servants to the Prime Minister, he in turn opens his arms to Jews, but treats Catholics with disdain. A month later, another editorial argued that Jews, unlike Catholics, have foreign blood in their veins, and yet are treated as favoured individuals, even though they are, quote, “of another race.” The paper reported that “the Jew” is “of another race, and his blood pure from admixture with the Saxon, Norman, or Celtic; but notwithstanding the absence of ‘kith and kin’ in the matter, he is the ‘Dowb’ of the Liberals.” According to the editorial, “we who profess the Catholic faith (which the Jew hates), of undoubted English, Irish, or Scottish blood, whose origin is the same with that of the Liberals, who have no other country … cannot excite the millionth part of this sympathy.” It concluded that Catholics, who “have not a drop, probably, of foreign blood in their veins,” find themselves in a position inferior to the Jews.

The Mortara Affair was an incident in which a six year old Jewish child, Edgardo Mortara, was forcibly removed from his family in June 1858 by the Carabinieri (the military police of the Papal States), placed in the care of the Church, and later adopted by Pius IX. This was because a Catholic maid (Anna Morisi), supposedly afraid that Edgardo was about to die, illicitly baptised him when he was an infant – or at least claimed to have done so. Years later she revealed this to Father Feletti, the inquisitor in Bologna. Whether Morisi really baptized Edgardo Mortara as claimed, or fabricated the story during her interrogation by Father Feletti in 1857, remains unknown. There were certainly inconsistencies in her account, which were highlighted during the trial of Father Feletti in 1860. Nevertheless, her story was accepted by the Church. The matter was referred to the Holy Office, which declared that the baptism was valid, and that according to papal law the boy must thus be removed from his family and brought to the House of the Catechumens in Rome to be raised as a Christian. This episode is examined in detail by David Kertzer in The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara (New York: Vintage, 1998: [link]). Significantly, the Mortara episode was also reflected upon by the Tablet. In October 1858, after a wave of indignation across Europe in response to the abduction, a Tablet editorial stated that “honest Catholic journalists” can say nothing about the Mortara affair, which Protestant readers will find “gratifying.” It was necessary, argued the editorial, to take an “unpopular” stand, despite the inevitable criticism. According to the Tablet, the family had brought the problem upon themselves, as they had disregarded the law forbidding them to employ Christian servants. The young maid had simply wanted to make heaven available to Edgardo, and thus had validly baptized him. According to the paper, the young Mortara child was “no longer a Jew but a Christian,” and it was therefore quite right that he be removed from his parents in order to protect his soul and make sure they do not use violence to force him to abandon Christianity. The abduction was thus transformed into a case of the Church defending an innocent child in his free “choice” of religion, against the unreasonable demands of his parents. According to a report in the Tablet on the 30th of October, the agitators who insist that the young Mortara child, “a baptised Christian, arrived at the age of reason,” should be surrendered to his father, and raised as a Jew, are in essence arguing that a “Christian child has no right to be protected in his religion.” The Tablet suggested that those who argue that the father has a “right to force his own religion on the child,” do so at the expense of the “interests of the child”. A week later, the paper argued that “the child Mortara has acquired rights which no human power can take away”; “the act which made him a Christian is irrevocable”. And the week after that, an article in the paper observed that when reading about the Mortara case in foreign journals, one must keep in mind that many of them are owned by Jews, and that “Hebrews and Protestants will hunt in couples when Popery is on foot.” (Link for more information on the Tablet and the Mortara Affair).

Following the Italian War of 1859, most of the Papal States were annexed to the Kingdom of Sardinia in 1860. The Kingdom of Italy, with the king of Sardinia at its head, was declared in 1861. Following the Italian War of 1866, Venetia was incorporated into the Kingdom of Italy. Only a remnant of the Papal States, in particular Rome, remained outside the new kingdom. Jews were often blamed by the Tablet for these events, and the stereotype of the greedy, materialistic, plundering Jew invoked. For example, in March 1866, the paper reprinted a report from another newspaper to the effect that when loyal Catholics arrived in Rome to volunteer for the papal regiments, they were confronted by “swarms of Jews, bag in hand, anxious to transfer to the Ghetto, at as low a price as possible, the defroque of these champions of the Church.” A few months later, during the brief Austria-Prussian war of 1866 (in which Italy fought on the side of Prussia), the Roman Correspondent for the Tablet reported that with regard to the news of the war, Rome’s Catholics were at the mercy of “the telegraph, which is in the hands of the Jews and the revolutionists.” After the war, the Rome correspondent reported that the economy in Italy was in a bad state, and that to address it, Church property was being auctioned off. According to the Tablet, it was only the Jews and revolutionists that would purchase the property, because the rest of the population would not wish to “incur the curse of sacrilege by acquiring it.”

In November 1868, the Tablet was purchased by Hebert Vaughan. Vaughan was a staunch Ultramontanist, and he acquired the paper as a platform to endorse the doctrine of papal infallibility, and to support the First Vatican Council. Vaughan was appointed the Bishop of Salford in 1872, by his mentor, Archbishop Henry Manning. In the early 1890s, Vaughan was appointed to replace Cardinal Manning as the Archbishop of Westminster. Vaughan held onto the paper from 1868 until he died in 1903. During Vaughan’s ownership of the Tablet, “the Jew” and “the Freemason” became frequent subjects for discussion. When Rome was captured by the Italian army in September 1870, the Tablet accused the Jews and Freemasons of being responsible for it. Flipping the Edgardo Mortara abduction on its head, an article in the Tablet reported that the converts from Judaism were being dragged away from their homes, and forced against their will to return to their “old haunts.” The report implied that “the Jews” were behind this, noting that “the Jews have been conspicuously active and successful, they have been prominent in the Revolution in Rome as they have been in all the revolutions and annexations throughout the Peninsular: and they everywhere secure the highest and most lucrative positions.” The paper also reported, that the “bitterest enemies of the Church”, are flocking into Rome, amongst them Jews and Englishmen. On the 31st of December 1870, responding to rumours that a Jew might be elected as mayor of Rome, the Tablet stated that if this were to occur, it would be “the strangest and most shameful phase in the history of Roman dishonour.” According to the Tablet, “as a Jew, he is the declared adversary of Christ and of His Vicar.”

The Tablet continued to build upon these themes during the next few years. For example, the Tablet suggested that the residents of Rome were living under “the old law”, rather than the New Testament. It stated that “our rulers are Jews, our teachers are Jews, our editors and bankers and tradesmen are Jews, and it will be by a special dispensation of mercies if we do not all wake one morning and find ourselves talking Hebrew and going to the synagogue instead of the [Church].” The Tablet suggested that if things continue as they are, the Jews will soon become the owners of Rome and Italy. The Tablet also argued that Jewish teachers – supported by Protestants and Freemasons – were pushing their way into the schools and colleges of Rome, and introducing “Judaic,” “atheistic” and “infidel” teachings.

Around this time, the Tablet also invoked images of Pharisees and crucifiers. For example, in 1873, the Tablet suggested that English journalists and statesman were like the Jews who clamoured for the crucifixion of Jesus. “Our modern Secularists are not even original,” the paper reported, as “in fighting against the spiritual authority, established by God, … they only imitate the perfidious Jews.” And in 1874, the Tablet argued that English Protestants, with their “neutralized Christianity” and denials of Christ, were like the Pharisees. According to the Tablet, those who say down with the Church, are like the Jews who called for the crucifixion of Jesus.

These deprecating images of Jews abruptly ceased in 1876. This was around the time that a variety of British newspapers and magazines, such as the Daily News, the Spectator and Fun, were caricaturing Jews, and suggesting that they were manipulating the country to side with “the Turks” during “the Bulgarian Horrors” and the Russo-Turkish War. A number of reporters and critics attributed Disraeli’s policies to his so-called “Oriental,” “Hebrew,” and “Asian” origins, which supposedly led him to sympathize with “the Turk” against the Christian. For example, the Daily News, alluding to Disraeli’s foreign policy, referred to traces of “the Asian mystery about it”, and an “almost Oriental indifference to cruelty.” The Spectator referred to an English Mohammed-ism, which supported the cause of Turkey, motivated by a “half-conscious hatred of Christianity.” And E. A. Freeman, a Liberal politician and professor of history at Oxford University, referred to him as the ‘Jew Earl’, ‘Philo-Turkish Jew’ and the ‘traitorous Jew’. The Tablet leaped to Disraeli’s defence. The paper suggested that the “barbarism” of Russia was greater than that of Turkey, and it agreed with Disraeli that the agitation was encouraged by Russia as a means to increase its territory. The Tablet stated that it would ideally like to see “the Turks” driven out of Christendom, but it asked, “shall we, however, set in the Turk’s place the Cossack, …, the executioner of Poland, the persecutor of the Church?” The paper observed that it was not long since Russia had “sent hordes of Cossacks” into Poland, with express instructions to “cut to pieces, with God’s help, all Poles and Jews.”

The Tablet not only sided with Disraeli’s policies during the Eastern crisis, it also dismissed accusations that “Judaic sympathies” were acting upon it, and lavished praise upon Disraeli for his literary achievements. This is interesting, because only a few years previously, the Tablet had been critical of Disraeli as both a politician and novelist. For example, in 1870, the paper had blamed Disraeli’s novel, Lothair, for encouraging Paganism and the worship of Astaroth in the streets of Rome. The paper had stated that it must “afford satisfaction to the Right honourable Benjamin Disraeli that the latest effort of his lively imagination, his no-Popery novel, is thus welcomed into the ancient home of the Papacy.” However, when he was raised to the peerage in 1876, the Tablet observed that it was “the legitimate crowning of a great career.” The Tablet went on to state that “as Catholics, we can never quite forgive Mr. Disraeli for writing Lothair,” but we are ready to acknowledge that his policies with regard to “Catholic questions” has been fair. “We can therefore honestly offer our congratulations on the great honour which has been conferred upon him.”

Considering the Tablet’s earlier criticisms of Jews and Disraeli, the Tablet’s sudden U-turn requires some explanation. It seems that the Vatican and the British government were both concerned that their respective interests in the region might be jeopardised if Russia succeeded in defeating the Ottoman Empire. For example, the Suez Canal in Egypt, a vassal state in the Ottoman Empire, was an essential link between Britain and India. Catholics enjoyed a measure of latitude in the Ottoman Empire, whereas the scars of persecution under Russia, especially in Poland, were still raw. William Gladstone, Disraeli’s political opponent, was also harshly critical of the Catholic Church in the 1870s following the First Vatican Council. These factors led the Tablet to defend and support Disraeli, and refute accusations that Judaic sympathies lay behind his policies. The U-turn however did not last long. During the 1880s, the Tablet quickly slipped back into a pattern of criticizing Jews, accusing them of dominating the education systems and money markets of Europe, and turning the University of Vienna into a “Jewish seminary,” and destroying the Union Générale bank.

Sympathy for the plight of Jews in Russia, and hostile stereotypes of Jews, combined and coalesced into an ambivalent brew during the 1880s and early 1890s. For example, in 1882, the Tablet criticized the Russian government for not curbing the persecution of Jews in its territory. The Tablet also asked, why those who complained about “the Turks” during the Russian-Turkish conflict, have no complaint for the Russians, when they slaughter and pillage “unoffending Hebrews.” Conversely, the Tablet also suggested, in the very same articles that defended Jews, that their persecution was partly a result of their rejection and murder of Christ, and their criminal financial activities. The Tablet explained that “we must be just to both sides. There can be no doubt that, in more than one country in the East of Europe, the Jews have given great provocation by extortionate usury and an excessive trade in noxious stimulants. But that is no reason why they should be robbed or murdered.”

The Tablet maintained this ambivalent attitude during the early 1890s. It reported that the cruel persecution of Jews in Russia continued with unabated heat. However, whilst the Tablet continued to criticize Russia, it also suggested that there were many reasons why the Jews were considered “obnoxious”. According to the Tablet, the Jews’ shrewdness enables them to live off their Russian neighbours, and the Jew is “a parasite, the parasite of ignorance, and too often of vice”

In January 1895, the Tablet contained a report in its Paris news section, stating that “there can be little doubt that the trivial punishment inflicted on Captain Dreyfus,” is owing to “the fact that he is both a Freemason and a Jew.” According to the report, “while in England the Jews are a harmless and inoffensive tribe, or at most work unaggressively, in France they are the declared and open enemies of the Christian religion.” According to the Tablet, the Jews use their wealth and talents to obtain official positions, which they then use to attack the Catholic faith at every opportunity. “The combination of Judaism with Freemasonry is irresistible,” the report stated, and “it rules France with an iron-gloved hand”. The report concluded that “had a Christian been found guilty of the treachery of Captain Dreyfus he would have been shot,” whereas Dreyfus “escapes with a comfortable exile”.

After the degradation of Captain Dreyfus in January 1895, the Dreyfus case disappeared from the pages of the Tablet for a few years. However, in the intervening years, there were other articles, editorials and letters about Jews and Freemasons. For example, during the publication of Léo Taxil’s  so-called “Memoirs of Miss Diana Vaughan,” instalments of which were published in France from 1895 to 1897, Freemasonry was accused of hiding an inner circle of highly secretive Luciferianism referred to as “Palladian” Freemasonry. In reality, this Palladian Freemasonry was entirely the invention of Taxil’s bizarrely creative mind, as he finally admitted in 1897. However, the authors of articles, letters and editorials in the Tablet were taken in by the Diana Vaughan hoax. According to an article in the paper in October 1896 : “That there is in France a sect devoted to the worship of Lucifer, as the champion of rebellious humanity, is, we believe, a well-attested fact, and the propagation of this diabolical creed has been ascribed by M. Taxil and M. Ricoux to an inner ring of the Masonic body called Palladic Masonry.” The Tablet concluded that a recent book by Arthur Waite “traverses and impugns these statements, but without any conclusive refutation of their general drift.” Father Norbert Jones of the Canons Regular of the Lateran, argued in a letter to the editor of the Tablet that Jews and Freemasons were working together to discredit Diana Vaughan’s damaging revelations of Masonic devil worship. According to Father Jones, those that “talk of deception in the matter are themselves the real dupes of Jew Masons” (link for more information on the Diana Vaughan hoax). And in March 1897, an article in the Tablet celebrated Karl Luegar, the antisemitic mayor of Vienna, for transforming the city from a so-called “fief of the great Hebrew banking interest,” into a “Christian democratic city”. According to the article: “the alliance of the Synagogue with the Lodges is in all continental countries the symbol of the triumph of infidelity over Christianity, and the creed of Judaism is hostility to the Christian name.” Less than a year later, the Jewish-Masonic conspiracy theory was again repeated, when the Dreyfus case returned to the public limelight. In February 1898, the Tablet reported that “the sudden clamour for the revision of the Dreyfus trial,” is a “subsidized movement, financed by the moneyed interest which has made the cause of the Jewish Captain its own.” According to the report, if Dreyfus had “belonged to any other race,” there would be no agitation on his behalf. The Tablet was explicit in its declaration of an alliance between Jews and Freemasons, stating that “the Jews in France, Italy, and Austria, the three principal Catholic nations of the continent, exercise a political influence entirely disproportioned to their numbers, and this influence is always exercised against the religion of the country. In close alliance with the Freemasons, … they form the backbone of the party of aggressive liberalism, with war to the knife against the Church as the sum and aim of its policy.”

In summing up, during the second half of the nineteenth century, Jews were criticized, caricatured and stereotyped under each of the Tablet’s three owner-editors. Jews were stereotyped as greedy, exploitive, foreign villains, bent on political revolution, undermining Christian civilization, plundering the churches, and de-Christianizing Rome. Jews were accused of monopolizing the banks, stock markets, and the Press. A link was often made between Jews and Protestants, with Protestants labelled the enemies of Christianity, and criticized for embracing and defending Jews. Jews were also linked to Freemasons, as two forces supposedly bent on destroying Christian civilization. This was especially the case during the late 1860s and early 1870s, when the paper sought to explain the destruction of the Papal States, and during the Dreyfus Affair in the 1890s. The Tablet was more ambivalent during the 1880s and early 1890s, expressing sympathy for the plight of Jews in Russia, whilst also repeating traditional stereotypes about Jewish greed and deviousness. The only major exception to this pattern of ambivalence or antipathy occurred during the late 1870s, when the Tablet defended Disraeli during “the Bulgarian Horrors” and the Russo-Turkish War, and defended his policies from the accusation of being driven by “Judaic” sympathies.


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