1773 - 1855 (82 years)
Has 4 ancestors but no descendants in this family tree.
||Amschel Rothschild |
|Relationship||with Francis Fox|
||This person is also Amschel Rothschild at Wikipedia |
||21 Sep 2001 |
- Treasurer of the German Confederation
The Austrian Emperor had created him and his brothers barons
Amschel of the Flowers
His four brothers shared certain characteristics: a steaming commercial libido; a leaping, grasping vibrancy. Until their death they possessed---or rather, were possessed by---relentless youthfulness. Amschel was different, and not only because he was a thin man. His image comes down to us redolent with the musky air of an old high priest's chamber. When patriarch Mayer died, Amschel, as his eldest son, inherited the bank in Frankfurt, the position as head of the family and his father's curious ways. To each of these legacies he did justice. He remained in the native city though it was soon over shadowed by his brothers' great capitals, though "Hepp! Hepp!"---immemorial cry of the German pogrom---kept crashing through the streets. With a snap of his finger Amschel could have raised palaces in more genteel lands. But he stayed and patiently picked up the stones which shattered his windowpanes.
Once an anti-Semitic mob gathered before his great house, now far from Jew Street. Amschel appeared on a balcony to face them. "My dear friends," he said, "you want money from the rich Jew. There are forty million Germans. I have about as many florins. As a start, I'll drop a florin to each of you." The mob cupped hands, caught and went. In some ways, Amschel spent the rest of his life telling the mob to go home. He became the grand almoner and grand protector to the German Jews; he helped sweep away the chains of Jew Street; he pressed, in the end successfully, for the Jews' enfranchisement as free citizens of Frankfurt.
Amschel was the first of the Rothschilds. It was his chore to apply for honors and consulships on his brothers' behalf; to condole or congratulate emperors and kings; to be spokesman for the Great Five. There is a poetic fitness in the fact that the formal head of the family should be the most ancestral of them all. In Amschel (he would not tolerate the compromise which changed Jacob to James and Kalmann to Carl) the medieval vein of the ghetto ran strongest.
Long after he had under his command a whole battery of literate clerks, he insisted on composing letters laced with archaic figures and Yiddish misspellings. His habit of addressing the British Commissary General as "the most High Herr Comishair" amused his brothers and the Comishair as well. It was, underneath all courtesies, his way of being himself. Later, as Rothschild communications reached the imperial level, he had to filter this self of his through scribes and calligraphers. Nevertheless, congratulating Chancellor Metternich on the recovery of Emperor Francis from illness, he ended, ". . . and may it ever be my fortune in deepest reverence to call myself your Highness' most humble and obedient servant . . . . ---which recalls his father's flourishes and also, perhaps, old Mayer's secret grin.
Amschel continued still another tradition of Mayer's: the bond with the House of Hesse. Once the connection had consisted of the fortune entrusted by Landgrave William to Mayer. Now the money streamed the other way.
Mayer's son financed William's son. Often Amschel would walk the streets in his ghetto dress---his favorite form of exercise---and suddenly drop in at his Serenity's palace for lunch. His Highness and family were always prepared, with special kosher dishes.
"They would," an astonished city chronicler states, take their midday meal quite en famille with their business friend."
Other German princes also held out their hands to Amschel, palm upward. He became treasurer of the German Confederation meeting in Frankfurt, and thus in a sense the first finance minister of the Prussian Empire ultimately born of the Confederation. As the giant among German bankers, he had his finger in every investment pie east of the Rhine and north of the Danube. Hundreds of German factories, railways, highways began with a ledger calculation in his offices at Frankfurt's Fahrgasse.
He lived, as it behooved him, on a princely scale. He had a number of titles and decorations, though as a rule he wore only the ribbon of the Court of Hesse and liked to be addressed simply as "Herr Baron." All foreign visitors to Frankfurt, including the diplomats accredited there, treated him with great distinction. They flocked to the great dinners he gave, honored him at banquets in return. But Amschel ate only kosher food, and he had no flair for social enjoyment.
"A strange man," said one of his acquaintances, "a person of thoroughly Oriental physiognomy, with old Hebrew manners and habits. His hat is usually pushed back onto his neck, his coat is open and falls negligently over his shoulders. . . . Like a chief dervish he sits on a raised platform among his clerks, his secretaries at his feet, and his agents bustling about him. . . . No one is ever allowed to speak privately to him about business; everything is discussed openly in the office, as in the old Rhine courts."
Amschel's business hours were as long as his clerks', his leisure time less. Even when he went to the theater, he was often called away to hear the report of a courier freshly arrived in Frankfurt.
At night he would be wakened in his bed to read and answer dispatches from Vienna, Paris, London, Naples; he had a bedside desk for the purpose. Being a business genius of the first rank, he could decide instantly on any offer, oral or written, giving his opinion in a few words. When once he had uttered his brief decision, nothing ever induced him to say another word on the matter.
Unlike his brothers, Amschel wore his wealth and power in a crotchety, joyless, somehow monkish way. "I have never seen any man so distressed," commented a contemporary, "beat his breast so much and implore the mercy of heaven, as Baron Rothschild on the long day [Day of Atonement] in the synagogue. He often faints from the strain of interminable prayer, and strong-smelling plants from his gardens are then brought and put under his nose to bring him around. In earlier years he inflicted severe mortification on himself in order to prevail upon heaven to grant him a child, but it turned out to be in vain."
There was the rub; there throbbed the pain. A love-parched, child-parched marriage weighed Amschel down. Of the five Rothschild branches, the central house in Frankfurt would not continue in the direct line. Amschel beat his head against his sonlessness. He tried prayer, he tried endless good works. His official charities---over 20,000 gulden yearly---amounted to nine times the total annual income of Goethe's very well-to-do family. The Jewish Hospital in Frankfurt lived on his contributions, and so did most of the poorer families in Jew Street.
But apart from his regular largesse, he gave away unnumbered small sums at all hours of the day, particularly when walking or riding through the city. His benefactions continued even while he ate.
More than one guest reported how a begging letter would sail in through the window and land on the table; how the Baron would, almost automatically, wrap a gold piece in it and throw it back with a practiced curve; and how a footman had to report whether the missive had reached its recipient.
None of these good deeds kindled his wife's womb. To distract himself, Amschel tried to learn the foreign languages his brothers spoke. But all that would stick in his mind were prayers and figures. He even tackled horse back-riding. People, though, always seemed to hold their hands to their mouths when they saw the Baron astride a thoroughbred in his caftan. He gave that up, too. Only the synagogue remained---and the gardens. Those gardens were his greatest worldly joy. He filled them with the rarest, finest blooms and with graceful animals. Here, at least, he could make young things grow. And here he received a young Prussian who was to become the legendary Iron Chancellor of Germany---Otto von Bismarck.
In 1851 Prussia appointed Bismarck its representative at the German Confederation meeting in Frankfurt. Old Amschel, with his sharp eyes, was not long in picking out a comer. The young man seemed about the same age as his phantom son might be, and soon Prussia's new delegate received a card asking him to Rothschild's house. As usual, the Baron had a very crowded schedule, and so the invitation was for a considerable time later. Bismarck replied that he would come if he were still alive. A letter to his wife shows, inadvertently, how pleased he was with the famous Jew's reaction.
"My answer," he wrote, "affected Baron Rothschild so strongly that he has told everybody about it, and goes about saying, 'Why shouldn't he be alive? Why should he die?
The man is young and strong!'. . . I like the Baron, though, because he's a real old Jew peddler and does not pretend to be anything else; he is strictly orthodox and refuses to touch anything but kosher food at his dinners. 'Take thome bread for the deer,' he said to his servant as he went out to show me his garden, in which he keeps tame deer. 'Thith plant,' he said to me, 'cotht me two thouthand gulden---on my honor it cotht me two thouthand gulden cash. You can have it for a thouthand; or if you like it ath a prethent, the thervant will bring it to your houthe. God knowth I like you, you're a fine handthome fellow.' He is such a short little thin person . . . . childless, a poor man in his palace."
Yet Bismarck was proud of his friendship with the piteous Jewish oddity. In the same letter he enclosed two leaves from Baron Rothschild's garden and instructed his wife to save them with care. There were other youths to whom Amschel paid even greater attention. He cast an envious but loving eye on the offspring of his brothers. The young Rothschilds interested him most at the crucial point of the dynastic process---their marriages. He supervised The Family's mating policy: boys must choose other Rothschilds, or at least other Jews, for their brides; the girls were sometimes allowed Christian aristocrats. (Nathan's daughter Hannah accepted, against some rather temporary family resistance, a son of the Baron Southampton, the Hon. Henry Fitzroy. Of Hannah's nieces, her namesake, Hannah Rothschild, wed the Earl of Rosebery, later prime minister of the Empire; Annie Rothschild became daughter-in-law to Lord Hardwicke; Constance Rothschild, the wife of Lord Battersea. On the Continent, one of Carl's grandchildren became the Duchess de Gramont, while her sister married the Prince de Wagram.)
To the end of his eighty-one years Amschel insisted that all nuptials be celebrated at Frankfurt. He did not always succeed, but he did compel all new Rothschild spouses---including the gentile bluebloods---to submit to a peculiar ritual. Even if the wedding were not held in Frankfurt, they must immediately proceed there in full retinue. They stopped briefly at Amschel's mansion. In his best caftan he emerged and headed the stately procession moving toward the ghetto. It reached a street too narrow for the splendid carriages. One had to disembark and make one's way across cobbles to a cramped, weathered house. The ladies, in their grand toilettes, could barely squeeze through the small doorway.
In this ghetto cavern Gutele Rothschild, the dowager empress of world finance, lived on---forever, it seemed.* No newcomer, no matter how noble, received full admission to The Family before being introduced, appraised and approved at Gutele's. Here, at the Green Shield, one did her homage. Here, as a young coin merchant's wife, she had once boiled beef, scrubbed walls, washed shirts, while her husband and five sons attained legend. From here she would not move. And since there was hardly a palace west of the Urals that would not gladly claim her as guest, the palaces came to her. Here, in medieval dusk, the duchesses curtsied. Here the mighty, peacocked with decorations, bent over the rough old hand. They admired obediently Gutele's bridal wreath, which had been withering under glass for much more than half a century. The ancient woman, covered in stiff lace, moved little. Her face under the sheitel (the wig worn by an orthodox Jewish wife) hardly smiled. But her tongue was humorous, sharp, alive.
*She died when Amschel was seventy-five.