As the brightest in a brood of children, he had been sent to a Yeshiva near Nurnberg to become the family pride---a rabbi. He studied well, but briefly. Both his parents died, and with them the source of tuition. Luckily some relatives secured for young Mayer an apprenticeship in the Jewish banking house of Oppenheimer at Hannover.
Another lad in his position would have clung to just that city. Germany was still a patchwork of principalities, each with laws unto itself. In contrast to Frankfurt, Hannover tolerated Jews---tolerably. Mayer did well. His path was clear: to stay at Oppenheimer's; to advance; to become chief clerk; and, with God's help, possibly even to die a partner. Instead, Mayer went home. He did the wrong thing and became immortal.
Yet when he re-entered Frankfurt that spring day, not a shred of grandeur greeted him, only petty humiliation. Crossing the river Main, he had to pay Jew toll. From afar he could see, and smell, the quarter where he had been born twenty years earlier. The ghetto brimmed along a single dark alley, just twelve feet broad. It stretched, as Goethe later said, "between the city wall and a trench."
On his way Mayer could not escape the street urchins whose favorite amusement was to shout, "Jew, do your duty!"---whereupon the Jew had to step aside, take off his hat, and bow. Having thus entertained the local children, Mayer reached the heavy chains with which soldiers manacled the Judengasse (Jew Street) every night. Inside, the ghetto was not very encouraging either. Shops spilled heaps of secondhand clothes and soiled household goods into the alley; this welter reflected an ordinance that barred Frankfurt Jews from farming, from handicrafts, even from dealing in nobler goods such as weapons, silk or fresh fruit.
And the young Jewish girls Mayer encountered---they, too, were subject to the stern hand of the gentile. Another city edict limited the Jews to five hundred families and to no more than twelve marriages a year. Even when Mayer reached his own block and an old friend hailed him with "Heh, Rothschild!" that very word could only be a reminder that he really had no family name at all. It was a privilege his race did not possess. To invent some sort of identification, Jews often used the house signs which predated numbered addresses. Mayer's ancestors had once lived in a house with a red shield (Rothschild) at the more prosperous end of Jew Street. The name still stuck, though the family had declined to a danker, humbler place behind the Sign of the Saucepan. It was at the Saucepan that Mayer finally turned in. He walked through a gloomy and littered court to the back-yard quarters where his brothers Moses and Kalmann ran a secondhand shop. It was here that he reached the end of his journey and the beginning of an epic.
2. A Dreamer in the Ghetto
In the damp quarters of the Saucepan, Mayer Amschel proceeded to toil patiently for years. And at this point we must ask: Did he really foresee the advantage of sacrificing a bright and orderly progress in a Hannover counting house for the sake of a dark hole in Frankfurt's Jew Street? Had he understood the opportunity sleeping in his native city? Did he know that the local lord, young Prince William of Hesse-Hanau, was a plutocrat among princes; that at William's court a financial empire was being built which would need financial viceroys?
Did the dream really descend through the narrow roof and touch Mayer's thought at night? But in daylight---what a distance between Mayer and a prince! In the daylight he was one of three brothers in caftans, rooting about among old chests, hip-deep in high-grade junk and low-grade antiques. He couldn't have afforded one horse of the many splashing mud against ghetto walls as they sped to William's castle at Hanau. As time went on, it appeared that Mayer would not even be able to afford a saddle. He had begun to develop, with more enthusiasm than profit, a new department in the secondhand store: he traded in old coins. The years in the Yeshiva still lived in him. He was a rabbi manque and carried on his bent back old racial longings for poetry and lore. The dinars and thalers he now bought up; the obscure mintages from Russia, from the Palatine and from Bavaria; these he could analyze, annotate, interpret, explain, de scribe, relate---but not sell. Or so it seemed at first. In Jew Street there was too great a need for current money to bother with the retired kind. Nor were Christian burghers more receptive to such trinkets. It was necessary to go farther, into the manors and castles around Frankfurt. Mayer ventured forth. After all, he had the shadow of a connection; back in Hannover he had run errands for a General von Estorff, now attached to the court of Prince William at Hanau. And the General deigned to remember. Mayer found that the General's courtier friends showed a nice interest in his quaint coins and heirlooms. They listened to his surprisingly learned numismatic chatter. They were amused by the ghetto music with which he celebrated his wares.
They fingered the catalogue written with such loving flourishes. And then they bought! They bought again from time to time. Mayer, emboldened, sent his curlicue-embellished catalogues to princes and princelings all around. One day he was ushered into the presence of William himself. His Highness, legend claims, had just won at chess and therefore regarded the world kindly. Mayer sold him a handful of his rarest medals and coins. It was the first transaction of a Rothschild with a chief of state. He returned to Jew Street, triumphant but not rich. He had thoughts of marriage, but the upkeep of his family could not depend on random euphoria in high places. So Mayer instituted in the House at the Saucepan a Wechselstube---that is, a rudimentary bank where the multifarious currency of the Germanies could be exchanged. The fairs held in Frankfurt brought all sorts of ducats, florins, carolins and what-nots into town. From this diversity Mayer now steadily profited.
He became good son-in-law material. One began to see him quite often over at the home of Gutele Schnapper, a small but energetic seventeen-year old, whose father kept shop at the good end of Jew Street. The dowry here promised to be fair. Gutele was sweet, her beef stew excellent. Could a nice young Jew ask more? Mayer did. Those old coins and the high gentlemen who bought them. . . . Again the dream stirred sotto voce and further bent his shoulders. Again he rejected the sound bourgeois way to merely sound success. He did not use the exchange profits to enlarge the Wechselstube, his primary source of income. The money was invested in the numismatic trade. Mayer bought out some needy coin collectors. With his newly bolstered line he attracted the Duke Karl August
(Goethe's patron at Weimar) and other spectacular customers paying drab prices. He sold consistently, if sparsely, to his lord, William. And he enjoyed himself.
His brothers---who pursued the solid, stodgy used-goods department of their common business---could never quite fathom that persistent smile in Mayer's beard. They watched him, puzzled. How he hovered over his catalogues! How carefully he had them printed now, in complicated Gothic letters! How he kept revising their elaborate title pages, how he worked on their phrasing which, even for those days, seemed a bit odd and archaic. He was, the brothers thought, like a Talmudist writing a book. And indeed, Mayer really began to write. They were letters of practical import, petitions to various local princes. Yet their convoluted charm and their painstaking love of formalities, sometimes lapsing into ghetto idiom---all that seemed typical Mayer.
"It has been my particular high and good fortune," he would begin, 'to serve your lofty princely Serenity at various times and to your most gracious satisfaction. I stand ready to exert all my energies and my entire fortune to serve your lofty princely Serenity whenever in future it shall please you to command me. An especially powerful incentive to this end would be given me if your lofty princely Serenity were to distinguish me with an appointment as one of your Highness' Court Factors. I am making bold to beg for this with the more confidence in the assurance that by so doing I am not giving any trouble; while for my part such a distinction would lift up my commercial standing and be of help to me in so many other ways that I feel certain thereby to make my way and fortune here in the city of Frankfurt."
And sure enough, one day, on September 21, 1769, passers-by in the poor end of Jew Street had something new to look at. A stooped young man with a black beard was nailing a sign onto the Saucepan house.
It bore the arms of Hesse-Hanau, and underneath proclaimed in gilt characters: M. A. ROTHSCHILD, BY APPOINTMENT COURT FACTOR TO HIS SERENE HIGHNESS, PRINCE WILLIAM OF HANAU. (=Wilhelm I v.Hessen-Kassel)
Now, a factorship was a commonplace honor. The appointment only confirmed publicly that the appointee had done business with the court. It carried no obligations on the part of the prince, gave no magic fillip to Mayer's career.
Yet it created a certain excitement in the neighborhood. The Saucepan landlord was impressed and agreed to sell a quarter-share of the house to the three brothers-something Mayer had long wanted. Gutele's father, hitherto reluctant, let her become the new dignitary's wife. The title also exempted its owner from a few of the disadvantages from which Jews suffered; a kind of passport, it made traveling a little easier.
Whenever Mayer passed the front of the Saucepan, he lingered for a moment and played his odd smile over the plaque. Gutele began to bear him children, and he even held his babies up to the sign, explaining the escutcheon and the lettering. His brothers smirked. His wife was busy cooking and washing. But the tots in his arms stared at the plaque with serious eyes. They seemed to recognize it as the first fragment of an enormous fulfillment.
3. Mayer's Serenity
The young prince who conferred the distinction --- a supporting player in the Rothschild drama---was an interesting man. Despite the relatively small size of his domain, William had blood as blue as any monarch in Europe. A grand-son of George II of England, a cousin of George III, he was also a nephew of the King of Denmark and brother-in-law of the King of Sweden. Obviously his relatives were doing well. What made them even more important to William---and what gave him a signal part in Mayer Rothschild's story---was the fact that just about the entire collection of majesties owed money to little Hanau. When it came to money, this nabob, whose crest had been famous in Germany since the Middle Ages, was sharper than next year's parvenu. He was the first great royal burgher. Like his father, Landgrave Frederick of Hesse-Cassel, William trafficked in valor. But the son squeezed out of this commodity a good deal more than had papa. William conscripted his male subjects and processed them for the auction block. He refined and perfected his troops; he shined and sharpened them on the parade grounds; he made sure of the officers' pigtails and the enlisted men's muskets. And when a batch was ripe and enticingly packaged, he sold the lot to England, which used "the Hessians" to keep peace in the Colonies.
William's merchandising of the peacekeepers brought him enormous wealth. Every time a Hessian was killed, the prince received extra compensation to soothe him for the victim's trouble. The casualties mounted, and therefore his cash. This he loaned out, with shrewd lack of prejudice, to just the right people---candlestick makers with impeccable credit ratings or kings who paid interest in the form of favors. Between the influx of royal dispensations and bourgeois thalers, he became the richest ruler in Europe. Quite probably he amassed the greatest personal fortune between the Fuggers and---the Rothschilds.
In a life so austerely filled with business, William knew only one avocation: adultery. Even to that enterprise he applied himself with, one might say, touching conscientiousness. In addition to the three children by his official wife, the Princess Royal of Denmark, he sired at least twenty-three illegitimate offspring by other consorts. They were all very soigne bastards, with patents of nobility purchased by William from his august debtor, Emperor Francis of Austria.
An indirect consequence of one of Serenity's liaisons helped strengthen the so-far tenuous bond between him and Mayer Rothschild. The eight children of Frau von Ritter-Lindental, one of his fertile mistresses, had a tutor named Buderus; and Buderus' son Carl attached himself to the court as a treasury official. Young Carl, whom we will encounter again, soon endeared himself to the prince's thriftiness. According to a chronicler, he conceived a plan "for increasing the milk profits from one of the prince's dairies by the simple expedient of forbidding the practice . . . of omitting fractions of a heller [penny] in the accounts. Young Buderus showed that this would increase the revenue by 120 thalers. This discovery appealed so strongly to the prince . . . that he entrusted Buderus with the accounts of his private purse in addition to his normal duties."
It was Buderus who helped invent the Hanau salt tax, out of which Serenity's multitudinous progeny was supported. And it was Buderus who began to be quite interested in Mayer Amschel, appearing at Hanau every so often with quaint wares. Buderus liked the Jew. He liked, as well, the rare coins he got as holiday presents. There were many holidays in the year. Through Buderus, Mayer's Wechselstube was given a few of Serenity's London drafts for discount---that is, for cashing. Rothschild had at last broken into state banking. But in a tiny and insignificant way. Prince William was not at all aware of Jew Mayer.
He just liked to scatter his foreign bills of exchange among as many discounters as possible; a concentrated dumping might depress the exchange rate. Buderus could help Mayer to a few further footling transactions; then the flow seemed to stop altogether. An event occurred which made even greater the gulf between low little Mayer and the high prince.
William's father died. In 1785 his Serenity succeeded to the immense possessions, to the palace, and to the title of Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel. William's retinue---complete with wife, mistress, scions, bastards, courtiers, and all---left Hanau and thus the vicinity of Frankfurt. The whole splendid court settled into the great palace of Wilhelmshohe at Cassel.
That same year Mayer and his wife Gutele pushed their pots and barrels to a somewhat larger ghetto house, this one with a green shield: an obscure, cluttered, piddling migration within Jew Street, worlds below the princely progress from Hanau to Wilhelmshohe. Yet it was Mayer's, not William's, journey that ended in a landmark meaningful to our day.
4. A Dynasty Aborning
In his old age Mayer looked back on his life and confessed that the 1780's were his favorite years. He was in his own forties then, and the decade had a kind of homey, cheerful cast. On the one hand, the fury which was to raise the Rothschilds to The Rothschilds still bided its time. On the other hand, they had shaken off the ghetto's more soiled and naked exigencies. The ugly back yard at the Saucepan lay behind them.
The Green Shield was a much finer house. It fronted the street, rose three stories high and expressed Mayer's standing as an established merchant. True, here as everywhere in the ghetto space was scarce. The Green Shield, though tall, was narrow, its rooms small and dark. Two bedrooms must serve the parents and their constantly growing brood (twenty children were born, ten survived). Cupboards had to be wedged under the steep, creaking staircases, and a few were built into the wall. It was not a quiet existence, either. Outside, Jew Street surged and screamed. Inside, staircases and flooring, both venerable, groaned. Every time the front door opened, an ancient bell clanged. It had, during its lifetime, warned not only of customers but also of pogroms and police. The bell sent Mayer scuttling a hundred times a day. He was busier than ever. To maintain the house, to support the family, he had added a dry-goods counter to his regular business---the coins, the Wechselstube, and the secondhand trade. No one shared the burden, for brother Kalmann had died in 1782, while brother Moses had withdrawn. Mayer sweated through all these struggling departments and smiled his odd smile. Indeed, he found increasing cause for contentment here. The store, with its more spacious quarters, invited more attractive customers. Schonche, the eldest child, who sat behind the cashier's desk, was given a new dress.
Mayer soon rid his place of the disorder of the used-goods trade. Eventually he dealt not only in cotton but also in wine and tobacco, and the dignity as well as the aroma of these wares pervaded the whole building. Also on the ground floor was the kitchen, a mere twelve by five feet large and with a hearth just big enough for a single pot. Next to it stood---extraordinary luxury!---a pump. The Rothschilds were among the blessed few in Jew Street who needn't leave their four walls to get drinking water.
The kitchen, of course, constituted Gutele's province as mistress of the house. So did the carefully kept living room upstairs. (Many years later it was to be called "The Green Room" because of the color of its faded upholstery and because Gutele stubbornly persisted in living and sitting in state there while her sons reigned over Europe from their palaces.)
On Saturday evenings, when prayer was done at the synagogue, Mayer liked to inveigle the rabbi into his house. They would bend toward one another on the green upholstery, sipping slowly at a glass of wine, and argue about first and last things deep into the night. Even on work days, when Mayer had finished with his coins and cottons and drafts, he was apt to take down the big book of the Talmud and recite from it in happy Hebrew singsong while the entire family must sit stock-still and listen.
But Mayer was not just bookish. The Green Shield had a kind of terrace looking out on the back yard. Since Jews were not allowed to set foot in public gardens, this served as the family recreation ground. Here Mayer played with the children while Gutele, like the good Jewish wife she was, sat quietly in the background, knitting, sewing, crocheting, mending. On the terrace Mayer showed his daughters how to tend some grass and flowers and talked in fanciful tropes about the various plants---almost as though they were old coins. Here, too, he celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles (which must not be held under a roof) beneath pine twigs through which the ghetto stars were shining.
The building had another feature to which he resorted just as often but much more circumspectly. On the other side of the small yard lay the counting house---the first, primitive Rothschild bank, covering all of nine square feet.
It contained a large iron chest with a mechanism so contrived that it could not be opened on the side with the pad-lock but only by lifting the lid from the back. Yet the chest served largely as decoy. The walls were riddled with secret shelves, and a trap door led down into a hidden cellar which was quite separate from the "official" house cellar. Equally separate was the purpose of this second cavern. In it were stored documents, contracts, deeds and, after a while, strange papers relating to his Highness, Landgrave William of Hesse-Cassel---seemingly so distant.
Invisible bonds began to connect an underground hole behind the Green Shield with the great towers of Wilhelmshohe. Few knew of the tie while it was being forged. And no one suspected that the tycoon prince would be eclipsed by the ghetto peddler; or that the Jew Street family would, within Serenity's own lifetime, surpass by far his own fabulous wealth; would drown the fame of his ancient name with their own; would, in fact, reduce him to a thoroughbred steppingstone.
NO TRUMPETS announced the Rothschild accession to world power. At the end of the 1780's Mayer Rothschild meant little or nothing to Prince William in his high castle at Wilhelmshohe. Mayer's name remained entirely inconspicuous in the
Frankfurt ghetto itself. The premise of the family's conquest lay in the very unobtrusiveness of their crouch and the silence of their leap. Their aim was so high; compared with it, their position so low; their first foothold so precarious, their resources so feeble; any alerted rival could have destroyed them with a single stroke. Yet the three puissant devices by which Mayer's house was to overwhelm a continent were already doing their
work in miniature.
1. The Rothschild clientele consisted, to a calculated degree, not of other bourgeoisie but of some of the noblest personages in Germany---and never mind if their high posi-dons exacted low profits.
2. Rothschild courted the Landgrave with low prices (thus faithfully imitating William's own tactics with the imperial palace in Vienna). This earned Mayer the increasingly crucial cooperation of Buderus who, as the prince's financial lieutenant, exerted influence over the greatest money hoard in Europe.
3. Mayer had sons. Here was, and is, the simplest, most important power instrument of all: to have sons. In essence the dream poem in Mayer's soul was dynastic. All the connectionmaking, the storytelling and charming, the bit-by-bit selling he did at local courts was dynastic investment. Had he not been a father, it would have been vain gesticulation; he would have died unknown, a species of feckless Semitic troubadour. But since he had sons, he became a mover of mountains. All his travail turned out to be the perfect seed for his children to grow and pluck; and all their tireless harvesting toil would be but new sowing for their children and their children's children. Perhaps the early Romans were the most successful nation we have known; perhaps Napoleon the most formidable individual. It is quite possible that the people still bustling obscurely at the Green Shield were the family par excellence in modern history. As long as Mayer lived alone with his wife, he was just another Jew---or, if you will, a Caesar without centurions. But soon those boys marched out of Gutele's womb like so many dauntless legions. First came Amschel, future treasurer of the German Confederation. Then Salomon, who in the end achieved exactly the exalted station in imperial Vienna that remained Landgrave William's perpetual daydream. Then Nathan, who rose to more power than any other man in England. Then Kalmann, who wound the Italian peninsula around his hand. Then Jacob, who was to lord it in France during Republic and Empire.
In the beginning, of course, those five, together with their five sisters, were just an eager litter of ghetto apprentices, taking the load off Mayer's stooped shoulders. They ran errands, manned counters, added figures. But swiftly their characters became plain. They were quite different from old Rothschild. When Mayer talked Jewish history (would one of them perhaps go to the Yeshiva?) or spun yarns about his coins, their eyes, while obedient, turned blank. They became alive at the market place. They vibrated at the Wechselstube. They were fiendish calculators. They came running into the house with something-- often cotton cloth---they had snatched up for a song and which they sold dearly, with an astounding pressure and speed, a few hours later. Success itched in their bones. Yet their gentler father was needed to release it. A precedent established itself to pattern the future: in the House of Rothschild, brilliance may be individual but accomplishment is joint. Brothers and cousins complement each other, and so do generations. The harsh, tremendous new energies in the House of the Green Shield might have foundered if not for Mayer Amschel. He softened them. He supplied graciousness, the one thing the brothers would always lack. He put forward a pleasant face at a time when the skill of pleasing was still more useful than the ability to negotiate. In other self-made success stories the more polished sons build from the spadework done by the father. Here the father put the subtle touches on the sledgehammer schemes of his boys.
The first scheme consisted of a complex and ingenious putting together of two and two. On the one hand, there was the Rothschild cotton-cloth line, paid for with money going to England---that is, to textile jobbers in Manchester.
On the other hand, his soldier-vending Serenity, the Landgrave, got money from England in the form of drafts. On the third hand (Rothschild reasoning is usually octopus-armed), those English cotton jobbers could be paid directly with the Landgrave's London drafts---and the discount fees pocketed both ways---if only William would give Mayer such discount business again and in more generous quantities. On the fourth hand, why couldn't Mayer show up at William's new court in Cassel right now, with some good stories and a do-me-a-favor-priced collection of fine old coins?
"Right now" meant 1787, two years before the French Revolution. Mayer packed his velvet case of numismatic treasures. Shortly afterwards the Landgrave acquired very cheaply a score of rare items, together with a petition from M. A. Rothschild recalling Mayer's Court Factorship and some of the minor discounting he had done in years past.
The court took its time. At last, in 1789, drafts worth 800 pounds sterling arrived at the Wechselstube. It was a first trickle that became steady and strong and hugely profitable. But this new income did not nearly satisfy the dynamic new impatience at the Green Shield. What was draft-discounting---which was really just check-cashing---compared to the handling of bonds in which the Landgrave invested much of his gigantic income? And who did the handling? Wasn't it those big Frankfurt bankers, Bethmann Brothers and Rueppell & Harnier? Weren't there spats between court and counting house? Suddenly the Rothschild boys stood, hat in hand, before the big bankers. "Please," they said in their funny Jew Street German, "let us be go-betweens between you, the dignified financiers, and him, the difficult William." The bankers looked amused at these eager, uncouth apparitions.
Yes, in them there wasn't an iota of dignity to be hurt, and maybe they had just the raw vitality to satisfy Serenity's "mach' schnell" needlings. Established Frankfurt agreed. It paid those young ghetto louts a small commission for being its messengers and William's butts. Established Frankfurt was served well. William liked the way the youths snapped to. And his treasurer, Buderus, became a secret partner in the Wechselstube now turned regular bank. Soon Salomon was an almost daily fixture at Cassel, incorporating Rothschild into the financial apparatus of the court. Soon Amschel was arranging---and participating in ---some of the Landgrave's mortgage business. Soon Nathan, who had quarreled with an English textile salesman over prices, found himself in Manchester; soon he sent directly discounted cotton right through the French Revolution to the Rothschild store, just as prices started rocketing. Almost by accident the family had taken its first step toward forming an international network. Soon the Green Shield team fanned out in all directions. In every stagecoach a young round-faced Rothschild sat, portfolio wedged under one arm, eyes avid but impenetrable. And Mayer himself followed, soothing where there had been too much sharpness, conciliating and smiling as consummately as his sons had argued and promoted. Soon the Jewish community at Frankfurt took a surprised look at the phenomenon in their midst. For over twenty years Mayer Amschel's tax assessment had been the same, a moderate figure of 2,000 gulden. Abruptly in 1795 the amount was doubled. The next year his official worth reached 15,000 gulden, the highest possible fiscal category in the ghetto.
This change did not constitute a world-shaking event, like some others about to take place. Napoleon was
inventing imperial France. Corsican thunder rolled down the shores of Europe. But in Frankfurt another brand-new power reached beyond national borders. It marched on tip-toe, and not with hobnailed boots. Mayer Rothschild executed in total secrecy his first important loan operation involving a foreign state.
2. Something Rotten in Denmark
Someone once said that the wealth of Rothschild consists of the bankruptcy of nations. There is more to it than that, of course. But certainly the family's initial international coup took place in 1804, when the entire treasury of Denmark consisted of a deficit.
Mayer, kept au courant by Buderus, knew the fact well. He knew furthermore that Landgrave William suffered from an almost unbearable surplus. Highness, therefore, was beyond doubt willing to help out Denmark---particularly since a kingdom makes pretty good collateral. Only, the Danish monarch was Highness' uncle. It's always bad business to show poor relations how rich you are: loans within the family can easily degenerate into gifts. The thing to do was to make the loan incognito. Not through Bethmann Brothers, of course, or through Rueppell & Harnier, or any of the other big banks identified with his Highness. Why not use an obscure but efficient outfit; an outfit which would turn the trick for a smaller commission, yet with guaranteed anonymity; an outfit---well, let's see now . . . an outfit, say, like Rothschild's?
Mayer just dropped his intricately wrought hint to Buderus. Buderus redropped it into Highness' ear. Highness smiled. From Frankfurt to Copenhagen the stagecoaches began to swarm with Mayer's boys.
Bethmann Brothers and Rueppell & Harnier, the big Frankfurt bankers, did not notice anything at first. After a while, though, they could not help wondering. The Rothschild outfit seemed so awfully preoccupied each time they asked it to do some menial brokerage chores. Furthermore, quite some time had passed since the Landgrave had last asked them to arrange foreign loans.
Inquiries directed to his Highness' treasurer, the Honorable Herr Buderus, received polite impassive answers. Questions put to Copenhagen met with a most curious statement: all Danish loans, replied the finance minister, had been handled by people acting for some nameless but terribly nice millionaire.
"What people?" exclaimed Bethmann Brothers.
". . . .schild something." These people moved so fast it was hard to catch their names.
". . . .schild?" Rothschild? Rothschild! Bethmann Brothers were in an uproar of investigation. And the cat was out of the bag. Those ghetto hawkers! Daring to undercut the most powerful and long-established bankers in Germany!
Furious appeals went out from Bethmann and Rueppell & Harnier to the Danish government, to the Landgrave, even to Buderus---flaming statements about Mosaic presumption and Christian loyalty. Patrician Frankfurt was up in arms. Broadside after broadside crashed against the Jew Street schemers, who were still, after all, chained in at night.
The court at Cassel hemmed and hawed. In the end the shouting did no more than make the shouters hoarse. That family was simply too useful to his Highness. Buderus said so, and the prince knew it for the truth. Their energy, their funny accents, their ubiquity had become indispensable. The last quality was decisive. They were everywhere. One father and five sons had become a preternatural force that devoured distance, precedents, limits and frontiers.
Old Mayer now gave this new force formal status. In 1800 he entered into a partnership with his two eldest sons. He established rules which became pillars of a dynastic constitution. All key posts in the firm were manned by members of the family---luckily a large one---not by hired hands. (To this day, only Rothschilds are partners or owners of the great Rothschild banks.) When Schonche, the eldest daughter, married, her husband was not employed in the business; but when Amschel wed a year later, his wife promptly received a position. (To this day the female line is as rigidly kept out of Rothschild affairs as the male line is included.) Mayer also began a system of secret bookkeeping in addition to the official one. (Today Rothschild business is "secret" to the extent that it consists, despite its immense size, of private partnerships which need publish no balance sheets or other information.)
Family and business were welded into one formidable machine. Daily the Rothschilds exerted smoother and greater power. They still lived in Jew Street, but their commercial quarters expanded to offices and a stockroom outside the ghetto. In the subterranean passages under the Green Shield counting house the gold mounted, together with packets of securities.
Above all, the Rothschilds' position with the Landgrave was supremely entrenched. Mayer had been appointed Oberhofagent (Superior Court Agent); the two eldest sons could now call themselves Hessian Pay Office agents. Daily their influence over the Hessian court, and over its income of a million thalers per year, was widening. They loaned money to the Landgrave's son, in loyal imitation of the Landgrave, who loaned to the royal dukes of England. They were on the point of becoming chief bankers to Wilham, one of the world's richest monarchs.
And then, in the year 1806, when Mayer's dream almost became substance, Napoleon seemed to sweep it away. He was sweeping away everything else. Prince William, like the cautious billionaire he was, tried to straddle the fence between Bonaparte and the Austro-British alliance. But the French Emperor had small patience with vacillators. When the Grande Armee came down on Prussia in October, 1806, it came down on Hesse as well. It appeared to be all over. Frankfurt suffered occupation. The lines of international commerce were shattered. Nathan, the Rothschilds' foreign bastion, looked marooned in England. And in the wee hours of the morning of November 1 Prince William himself panted into his carriage and had the horses goaded northward to Schleswig.
The next day French troops flooded into his castle, Wilhelmshohe. "My object," read Napoleon's order, "is to remove the house of Hesse-Cassel from rulership and to strike it out of the list of powers." Thus Europe's mightiest man decreed erasure of the rock on which the new Rothschild firm had been built. Yet, curiously, the bustle didn't diminish at the House of the Green Shield. The clouds which the great Emperor had blown so grandiosely across Europe were joined by smaller but no less portentous counterparts. Dust whirled behind the carriages in which those round-faced young Rothschilds still sat, avid and impenetrable, portfolios wedged between body and arm.
They saw neither peace nor war, neither slogans nor manifestoes nor orders of the day, neither death nor glory. They saw none of the things that blinded the world. They saw only steppingstones. Prince William had been one. Napoleon would be the next.
IN THE predawn blackness of November 1, 1806, there was a glow of muffled lanterns in the secret back-yard cellar of the Green Shield. Mayer Rothschild buried as quickly as he could a cartful of documents---minutes of Prince William's Privy Council. Those weren't the only things William wanted hidden from Napoleon's troops; that same hour some trusted footmen shoveled a hoard of jewels beneath the staircases of the prince's various castles. Unlike the dossier entrusted to Mayer, the jewels were found. Thereupon Carl Buderus, now William's undercover representative in occupied Hesse, called for his carriage. He had tea with the French governor-general, La Grange. Subsequently, about a million francs dropped into La Grange's Palm!!'. This brilliant interpretation of the law of gravity had brilliant results. The greater part of William's bright treasure was permitted to move out of the staircases, beyond musket reach of the French, into the hands of the evicted prince.
Still, jewelry made up only the merest fraction of the prince's wealth. As Europe's most blue- and cold-blooded loan shark, William had huge debts maturing in his favor all over the continent. In addition, there were his British investments that paid him dividends of nearly 2,000 pounds * (18,000 dollars) a month. And now he sat in Denmark, exiled, cut off from the administration of such affairs. For the stewardship of much of William's vast and complicated riches Carl Buderus chose Mayer Rothschild.
Of course, corporatively speaking, Buderus himself had become a quasi-Rothschild. A secret contract signed in 1809 confirmed the old verbal agreement that gave the prince's treasurer a certain share in the Green Shield business. But was this vested interest enough cause to hand a ghetto merchant such enormous responsibility? Wasn't Buderus pressing his luck too far? Who were the Rothschilds, after all? Without great financial or noble antecedents; as Jews, without civic status; without protection now that Serenity had been cast beyond the frontier---they seemed no different from the mass that thrashed about helpless on the tidal wave of Napoleon. Yet they were different, as Buderus knew. Theirs was a wonderfully lopsided knack. A heroic energy drove them. But since they lacked the heroic imagination to go with it, they were never driven too far. This gained them a thing rarer than triumph then: survival. In those seething teens of the nineteenth century, millions of men were undone by the history which a few grandly made.
*This translation into today's dollars---like all others in this book---is necessarily a rough calculation; the establishment of exact dollar equivalents is in most cases impossible.
The victims were pushed into disaster. The victimizers strutted into it in regal uniform. Rothschild & Sons juggled ledgers quietly, unrelentingly, through ruin and havoc. Their limitations were as miraculously appropriate as their talents. It was an unconquerable combination ---the steady-eyed sobriety of the burgher, powered by a demonic drive. Napoleon's finance ministry could not cope with the family. The ministry was declared by the Emperor the legal successor to William's exchequer. It thoroughly canvassed all princes and potentates who owed William money. It tried every device, from threats to rebates and easier terms, all due sums into the Emperor's purse. It toiled in vain. Mayer's boys skimmed through Europe in their coaches and scooped up the debts as they flew by. During their years in Highness' employ they had to direct acquired connections, knowledge, persuasiveness and momentum---all irresistible.
They were impossible to stop or to get hold of. But their father at Frankfurt was a more stationary target. Yet when the French police swooped down on the House of the Green Shield, all they found was a careworn old Jewish couple trying to run a store, with most of their grown sons' gone-ach! scattered by the brutal war. Their books appeared to be in order. Pro-Serenity or un-Napoleonic activities? Hardly a trace of them. The moment the boots died away, old Mayer descended into his back-yard cellar to resume work with his real books and his real correspondence.
Before long this correspondence was conveyed in the private Rothschild coach. The coach had a false bottom, and the letters a secret language consisting of a jumble of Hebrew, Yiddish and German and a code system of pseudonyms. English investments were called "stockfish." Old Rothschild turned into "Arnoldi," as if he were the hero of an Italian romance; whereas His Serene Highness, Prince William, was Judaized into "Herr Goldstein."
The care and feeding of Herr Goldstein became Mayer's province. Not an easy job, because Herr Goldstein kept throwing fits over a certain embarrassing circumstance: the Rothschild boys were collecting whole fortunes of Hessian moneys, but only a trickle reached Herr Goldstein, and no precise accounting whatsoever. Old Mayer, a genius when it came to cajolery, explained, appeased, pacified. Buderus helped as well as he could. But sometimes old Rothschild had to do his tranquilizing in person and undertake the seven-days journey over rough roads to William's exile near the Danish border. He reported how closely the awful French were breathing down his neck and his boys'; how often he had been searched and questioned, harassed and fined; how it became daily more arduous and dangerous to play games with Napoleon. Was it any wonder, then, that the swift transmission of debt collections or accounts thereof had grown impossible these days? Down-right suicidal for his boys and himself? Let it please his Highness to content his Serene Self in patience. Nothing was surer than the fact that his Highness would get his money. Mayer was right: his Highness did get every last penny ---eventually. Meanwhile . . . .
Meanwhile it just so happened that Nathan in London found himself in possession of very considerable funds. He happened to buy not only cotton---his original line---but foodstuffs, colonial wares and every other kind of goods which Napoleon's blockade had declared contraband on the Continent. Nathan's bales and boxes then happened to vanish, to reappear shortly on Hamburg docks. Here Amschel and Salomon happened to hover.
And then fresh wares happened to materialize on starved store shelves everywhere: in Germany, in Scandinavia, in the Lowlands, in France itself. Cotton goods, yarn, tobacco, coffee, sugar, indigo---there it was at last, at famine prices gladly paid. Who cared if somebody made a famine fortune?
Napoleon's one-track-minded police cared. After a while the constabulary became downright obsessed with the quaint idea that there was a connection between such widely separated things as contraband, Prince William's debts, and old Mayer of Jew Street.
On October 30, 1810, two French infantry regiments combed Frankfurt's warehouses, especially the Green Shield establishment in the ghetto. There they found nothing, for a better reason than usual. The Rothschilds' hands were really clean. Toward the end of 1810 they had gotten just about all they could out of smuggling. On September 27 of that year a printed letter had gone out to all business friends of the family. Mayer (said the announcement) was changing the name of his enterprise to "Mayer Amschel Rothschild und Sohne." The firm's shares were now held not only by himself, but also by Amschel, Salomon, Kalmann and even Jacob, at that time seventeen years old. Of Nathan the announcement did not say one word. Nor did the official new partnership contract allot him a single share. Yet, as usual, the officially omitted was really the most important. Nathan, who lived in England and therefore in enemy country, did more crucial work than ever in Mayer's business. It was he who had organized the smuggling. And it was he who conceived the family's next strike, beside which contraband would look like an outdated trifle. It had been just the beginning.
2. Round Two: A Million-Pound Idea
In 1804 Nathan Mayer had moved from Manchester, the textile center, to London, the hub of the world. Here the cotton merchant turned merchant-banker, a designation under which N.M. Rothschild & Sons are listed in the London telephone book even today. All the early English merchant-bankers began as traders with wares and credits everywhere; eased naturally into trading-cum-financing; and wound up as the first great international financiers of modern times. Among these condottieri Nathan ranks first. Through him the Rothschilds stopped buying and selling goods, even profitable contraband. Through him they switched to the ultimate commodity. From 1810 on, and to this very hour, the family would buy and sell money only.
Nathan sized up the opening provided by Napoleon, that unruly but on the whole useful market factor. And Nathan's secret letter put it to the Green Shield in Frankfurt: Bonaparte had now swallowed up nearly all the countries in which Prince William had once put his idle millions out to pasture-right? Only England was left to loan to---right? England, that rock against Napoleon. And consols (English state bonds), the Gibraltar among European papers. His Highness had invested in them in times past---right? Wasn't it time his Highness invested in them again, thoroughly, and through the good offices of Nathan Rothschild, who was so chockful of connections, willingness and go?
Mayer and Buderus laid the suggestion at Prince William's feet. Highness, however, felt a reluctance. There had been all those debt-collecting troubles with the family. On the other hand, the collected moneys were coming in by and by, adding to an already vast hoard.
Those countless thalers itched. Father Mayer charmed and blandished under a fine new wig and three-cornered hat. The old man's accent remained unchanged, as did his synagogue-going. Yet he had bloomed from a hustling tradesman to a full-fledged courtier. He now not only sold old coins to the Landgrave, he also bought them from him for his own private collection. He put his coach (with those secret compartments) at the disposal of the Landgrave's mails. He helped arrange Serenity's sundry exiles in Schleswig, Denmark and Bohemia. If his Highness trusted him that far, why not entrust to his son Nathan the purchase of consols? Particularly since the dear boy was willing to waive commission and only asked the teeny brokerage fee of one eighth of one percent?
At last William agreed. Why not, indeed? Between February, 1809, and December, 1810, Nathan received 550,000 pounds sterling with which to buy consols for the prince. It was, and is, a breathtaking sum, the equivalent of some five million current dollars. It dwarfed all the Landgrave's loans and dividends which had so far passed through Rothschild hands.
The moment it touched Nathan every farthing became a shilling, every shilling a guinea. The dear boy struck with such bull's-eye intuition, so powerfully, so fast, and at the same time so discreetly that no lucid records have survived. We do know that the agreement with William called for a purchase of consols at an average price of 72. Nathan did not buy at 72. He invested the money for his own account, took a rapid profit, and then took a second profit when he bought the prince's consols. These had meanwhile dropped to 62, just as he had foreseen. The saving in price, of course, went into his own pocket. At the same time he harnessed his infallibility to another chance. With stunning spunk, precision, speed, he speculated on the rise of gold bullion. Daily he leaped in and out of the market with tens of thousands of princely pounds, never missing a beat, never too early or too late.
After a while, of course, William began to fidget. So little news was forwarded to him from London, and not a single bond certificate. Mayer went to work, conjuring all the difficulties of communication Napoleon interposed between Dear Boy's London and Serenity's Prague. Serenity subsided. He even released further substantial funds.
Then, in 1811, young Kalmann Rothschild smuggled himself in and out of England to present the prince with his first consol certificates for 189,500 pounds sterling. William was relieved. But he had had enough of nervous exertions. "I am getting sick of my investments," he wrote to Buderus. "1 really prefer to have my money lying idle."
In 1811 this decision no longer bothered the Rothschilds much. Another, a last, milestone had been turned. Nathan, the milestone specialist, was the first to round it. Seven years before, he had come to London as a raw-tongued foreigner. Now, barely thirty-four, he enjoyed a preternatural reputation. All purchases he had made on behalf of the Landgrave had been registered in the name of Rothschild. Few suspected that the torrents of capital coursing through Nathan's office weren't necessarily his own. His actual wealth, though, had mushroomed as explosively as his credit. It waxed so huge that even William, the richest prince on the Continent, became too puny to be the chief account in Rothschild's book. He was just the beginning. Something still bigger had to be found.
3. Round Three: The Giant Gold Smuggle
"The East India Company," Nathan would reminisce at a dinner party near the end of his life, "the East India Company had 800,000 pounds' worth of gold to sell. I went to the sale and bought it all. [Nearly eight million dollars!] I knew the Duke of Wellington must have it. The government sent for me and said they must have the gold. I sold the gold to them, but they did not know how to get it to the Duke in Portugal. I undertook all that and sent it through France. It was the best business I have ever done."
This sums up rather gruffly an enormous, incredibly cunning operation. Basic to it is the fact that Napoleon played handmaiden to the family one more time. In 1807 he had produced for them an ideal goods shortage; in 1810, just the perfect kind of poor investment situation. Now he obliged with an exquisitely placed front line. The Emperor's marshals were fighting Wellington behind the Pyrenees, far away from English supply lines. To feed his army, the Duke had to issue drafts on the English treasury. A whole mob of Sicilian and Maltese financiers cashed these at outrageous discounts and pushed them along laborious paths to London for redemption. Sporadically the Rothschilds had participated in the traffic. But until 1811 this had been a sideline.
Now 800,000 pounds' worth of gold waited for Nathan in a vault. What scores of bankers had done by way of IOU's and notes seeping toward London, he and his brothers wanted to accomplish alone by hard money seeping to Spain. By profitable commission from His Majesty's Government, Nathan became, in effect, chief broker and pay-master general to England's most important army. There was only one way to route the cash: through the very France England's army was fighting.
Of course, the Rothschild blockade-running machine already had superb cogs whirring all over Germany, Scandinavia and England, even in Spain and southern France. But a very foxy new wheel was needed in Napoleon's capital itself.
Enter Jacob---henceforth called James---the youngest of Mayer's sons. On March 24, 1811, he registered with the French police on his arrival in Paris, his domicile being 5, rue Napoleon. Undoubtedly he was helped by Grand Duke von Dalberg, a high Napoleonic dignitary who had just been given a most advantageous loan by old Mayer. Probably James knew Paris a little from some previous visits. But he was only nineteen. He had lived in the ghetto most of his life; he spoke only German and Yiddish. Yet he moved through the sleek, treacherous ground of French high finance with a blinding speed and a sure-footed virtuosity that matched any exploit of Nathan's. Two days after his official arrival, Mayer's youngest was already the hero of a report by the French finance minister to Napoleon. "A Frankfurter named Rothschild," wrote the minister, "is now staying in Paris and is principally occupied in bringing British ready money from the English coast to Dunkirk. He is in touch with bankers of the highest standing in Paris. . . . He states that he has just received letters from London . . . according to which the English intend to check this export of gold. In fine, the minister had been fed some very carefully edited gossip, which gave away the existence of a gold stream but kept him in strict innocence of its destination. He had swallowed James's "letters" and other customtailored evidence showing---the exact opposite of the truth ---that Britain feared being weakened by the outflow of money.
James calculated well. What the British enemy seemed to fear, Monsieur le Ministre automatically desired.
In the space of a few hundred hours Mayer's youngest had not only gotten the English gold rolling through France, but conjured a fiscal mirage that took in Napoleon himself. A teen-age Rothschild tricked the imperial government into sanctioning the very process that helped to ruin it. What had happened to Bethmann Brothers would now happen to an empire.
The family machine began to hum. Nathan sent big shipments of British guineas, Portuguese gold ounces, French napoleons d'or (often freshly minted in London) across the Channel. From the coast James saw them to Paris and secretly transmuted the metal into bills on certain Spanish bankers. South of the capital Kalmann materialized, took over the bills, blurred into a thousand shadowed canyons along the Pyrenees---and reappeared, Wellington's receipts in hand. Salomon was everywhere, trouble-shooting, making sure the transit points were diffuse and obscure enough not to disturb either the French delusion or the British guinea rate. Amschel stayed in Frankfurt and helped father Mayer to staff headquarters.
The French did catch a few whiffs of the truth. Sometimes the suspicious could be prosperously purged of their suspicion. The police chief of Calais, for example, suddenly was able to live in such distracting luxury that he found it difficult to patrol the shoreline thoroughly. On the other hand, the commissioner of the Paris police proposed more than once that young James be arrested. But the protection of the finance ministry proved stronger.
While Napoleon struggled his might away in the Russian winter, there passed through France itself a gold vein to the army staving in the Empire's back door. Soon the Rothschilds became England's lifeline not only to Wellington but also to her allies. During the final years of the Napoleonic war, Britain appropriated immense subsidies for Austria, Prussia and Russia.
Yet she had no convenient means with which to effect payment. The shipping of bullion involved a prohibitive risk. Issuing single huge drafts on the British treasury would ruin the sterling rate. John Herries, the Exchequer officer in charge of foreign financing, knew one sure answer: let Nathan do it. Nathan and his brothers did it by operating simultaneously from their variously shifting bases. Between them, Mayer and boys established the first great international clearinghouse. They expedited most of the fifteen million pounds Britain advanced to her friends. With so light a touch were these stupendous transactions juggled, with such soundless grace, that the sterling rate never suffered a dent. The only perceptible commotion was the abacuses clicking in the counting houses. To this day the Rothschild commissions are unknown and incalculable. But even all that was just the beginning.
4. Round Four: The Scoop of Scoops
The Battle of Waterloo established England as the foremost European power. To the Rothschilds, her chief financial agents, Waterloo brought a multimillion-dollar scoop. The fame of that scoop has endowed it, in later years, with carrier pigeons and other legendary appurtenances. But like most family feats, it was based on very hard work and very cold cunning.
The hard work had started a long time before. As soon as the boys had fanned out from Frankfurt, they had started sending each other industriously, endlessly, items of commercial or general interest. Soon a private news service developed. (At the London house it survived down to World War II in the form of a dozen blue-clad couriers ready to fly off at a moment's notice to Rio, Melbourne or Nairobi.)
Rothschild coaches careered down highways; Rothschild boats set sail across the Channel; Rothschild messengers were swift shadows along the streets. They carried cash, securities, letters and news. Above all, news---latest, exclusive news to be vigorously processed at stock market and commodity bourse. And there was no news more precious than the outcome of Waterloo. For days the London 'Change had strained its ears. If Napoleon won, English consols were bound to drop. If he lost, the enemy empire would shatter and consols rise.
For thirty hours the fate of Europe hung veiled in cannon smoke. On June 19, 1815, late in the afternoon a Rothschild agent named Rothworth jumped into a boat at Ostend. In his hand he held a Dutch gazette still damp from the printer. By the dawn light of June 20 Nathan Rothschild stood at Folkstone harbor and let his eye fly over the lead paragraphs. A moment later he was on his way to London (beating Wellington's envoy by many hours) to tell the government that Napoleon had been crushed. Then he proceeded to the stock exchange. Another man in his position would have sunk his worth into consols. But this was Nathan Rothschild. He leaned against "his" pillar. He did not invest. He sold. He dumped consols.
His name was already such that a single substantial move on his part sufficed to bear or bull an issue. Consols fell. Nathan leaned and leaned, and sold and sold. Consols dropped still more. "Rothschild knows," the whisper rippled through the 'Change. "Waterloo is lost."
Nathan kept on selling, his round face motionless and stern, his pudgy fingers depressing the market by tens of thousands of pounds with each sell signal. Consols dived, consols p1ummeted---until, a split second before it was too late, Nathan suddenly bought a giant parcel for a song. Moments afterwards the great news broke, to send consols soaring.
We cannot guess the number of hopes and savings wiped out by this engineered panic. We cannot estimate how many livened servants, how many Watteaus and Rembrandts, how many thoroughbreds in his descendants' stables, the man by the pillar won that single day.
5. Round Five: Conquering the Victors
The climax of Waterloo was followed by peace---and a bleak surprise. During the war the Rothschilds had been irresistible. Now a snag developed, perhaps because someone indispensable had passed from the scene. On September 16, 1812, on the Day of Atonement, old Mayer prayed and fasted the entire day in the Frankfurt synagogue. The next morning an old wound from an operation broke open. He had barely enough strength to dictate a new will, which placed his business exclusively in his sons' hands.
. . my daughters, sons-in-law and their heirs having no part whatsoever in the existing firm M. A. Rothschild und Sohne . . . nor the right to examine the said business, its books, papers, inventory etc.
I shall never forgive my children if they should against my paternal will take it upon themselves to disturb my sons in the peaceful possession of their business.
Any violator of family harmoniousness was to be limited to the legal-minimum share of a total estate probated at far below its real value.
Then, the last dynastic chore completed, initialed, notarized, at 8:15 PM. On September 19, 1812, he died in Gutele's arms, the last truly Biblical patriarch of our time.
What he could not bequeath to his sons was his personality. They had no pliant dignity, no easy graciousness, no savoir-vivre with which to beguile a prince or flirt in a salon. Their fortune was the product of elemental vigor and precision-timed craft. These had served them well during the urgencies of war. But now older values resumed their accustomed place. One didn't smuggle at the Congress of Vienna. One danced. The Rothschild boys were not dancers; ergo, they would not do as bankers.
The economics of post-Napoleonic Europe centered largely on the efforts of various countries to tap financial resources from within; that is, to float national loans. Here the Rothschilds, with all their immense new capital, found themselves treading air. Only little Prussia let them handle a loan. Austna, the big plum, preferred more genteel company. Its ancient court lived on precedent and punctilio. Already back in 1800 there had been a brush with those pushy Frankfurters. They had signed a letter "k.k. Hofagenten" (Imperial-Royal Court Agents) when actually entitled to merely one "k." (Imperial only). Now in 1816 the brothers were multimillionaires. Yet only after the strongest pressure from John Herries, their particular supporter in the English treasury, would Vienna accept an English subsidy managed by these grabbers of the extra "k."
The boys, trying hard for a good impression, acquitted themselves with special subsidiary brilliance. By devising ways of waiving commissions and interest charges, they saved the Austrian treasury several millions.
As a result, in 1817 Vienna threw them the little "von," much as one throws a dog a bone. But the Rothschilds were not the kind to be fobbed off with a distinction by no means singular even for Jews. Nathan asked for the honorary Austrian consulship in London. He was answered by evasions. The five brothers together worked out far-reaching and favorable propositions. There was no real reply at all. In France the situation seemed even worse. Here Louis XVIII had literally borrowed the splendor of the Bourbon restoration from Nathan and James Rothschild. They had advanced him British drafts to finance his magnificent entry into Paris. But that had been in 1814, with cannonades still a palpable memory. Now, three years later, the old patrician bankers were back, calling the tune from their drawing rooms. Compared to their manners, any move from the Rothschilds sounded like a hopelessly rude noise.
The new French government prepared a great loan of 350 million francs and entrusted it to Ouvrard, a distinguished French financial name, and to Baring Brothers, fashionable English bankers. To these, Mayer's sons were "simple coin changers." The loan, sans Rothschild, became a huge success. In 1818 negotiations began for an additional issue of some 270 million francs. Again Ouvrard and Baring were front runners; the Rothschilds, futile haunters of the finance ministry. This loan, though, was to liquidate the French war indemnity. Its ultimate disposition would take place at a conference with the victorious powers at Aix-la-Chapelle.
In terms of family history, the forgotten congress at Aix is a much more important landmark than the still notorious scoop of Waterloo. Aix marked the first social confrontation between the great world and the newly great Rothschilds.
It began as a round of banquets and soirees a la Congress of Vienna, with the Rothschilds fascinated and frozen out like children before a Christmas window. It climaxed with a furious thunderclap. And when the roar su- sided, the children were in possession of the store.
Nobody foresaw this development during the first week, possibly not even Salomon and Kalmann, who attended as family representatives. To begin with, England had sent Lord Castlereagh instead of John Herries, their old friend. Salomon and Kalmann must have felt at sea in a world so charged with antique protocol, with such finely beveled compliments. Their natural habitat was the stock exchange, not the ballroom. Still, the most expensive tailors had fitted them vests and cravats of the finest material. Their coaches glittered. Their horses shone. What if their grammar was a little primitive? Furthermore Kalmann had just married Adelheid Herz, of the most soigne Jewish family in Germany. The bride was to spearhead the family's bon ton.
Yet it was all no use. Whenever the brothers wanted to see Prince Metternich, he was just being feted by the Duke de Richelieu. Lord and Lady Castlereagh could not be found, since they kept driving about with Prince Hardenberg. The Rothschilds were left out of all these cordialities. Baring and Ouvrard, their rivals, seemed included everywhere. Only secretaries were available, and the secretaries smiled coolly: Yes, negotiations with Baring and Ouvrard were proceeding toward a conclusion. Why change partners in rnidwaltz? Hadn't Baring and Ouvrard succeeded with the 1817 loan? Weren't the bonds of the 1817 loan rising on the Paris bourse that very moment? The Rothschilds decided to try once more. They completed their purchase of Friedrich von Gentz, a brilliant publicist, friend to Metternich, and man-about-congress.
They took a big option on David Parish, a stylish young banker sporting good connections with Baring. They bought every buyable social grace in sight. They checked and rechecked the impeccability of their trousers and frocks, of the servants' livery. Everything was in order. Nothing worked. In the salons, one was amused by the puzzlement in Kalmann's face, by the Levantine frowns of Salomon. Unnoted in the general merriment went another circumstance: the couriers who entered and left the brothers' residence with growing frequency.
Through October, 1818, Aix bowed, gamboled, promenaded and ignored those Rothschild clods. On November 5 something strange happened. The French government bonds, the famous loan of 1817, began to fall after a year's steady rise. Day after day they dropped more steeply. And not only that---other securities wavered. Tempests came down out of a blue sky. A crash loomed, not just in Paris, but in bourses all over Europe. The music stopped at Aix. The noble gentlemen stood about dazed in the suddenly suspended splendor. After all, one had made one's little investments.
It was the princes who frowned now while, curiously, Kalmann and Salomon smiled. A rumor shivered through the drawing rooms. Could those Rothschi