Tuesday, May 18, 2010
What Was Wrong with Solomon Moses Anyway?
(This narrative began with "Rachel Gratz," the post of April 20, 2010.)
On June 26, 1806, Solomon Moses wrote that this day "unites me to Rachel Gratz, a Treasure,"
certainly a highly suitable sentiment for a groom. We have heard from Sarah and Rebecca, but sadly there is little of Sol's writings which survive, and I want to give him a chance to be, if only briefly, more than the object of his sisters-in-laws' disdain.
In reality though, Sol was probably one of those Rebecca wrote of in 1800 when she referred to men who had "least to boast" of in the way of superiority but were unaware of their deficiency. (See the post for April 13, 2010.) The evidence presented here is truly anecdotal: the first story indicates Sol's sense of male entitlement which leads him to voice his disapproval of Rebecca's activities, and the second, his robust narcissism. (How Sarah Gratz would have liked that term if it had been available to her!)
In 1807 Rebecca and her close friend Gertrude Ogden Meredith decided to have a formal exchange of letters on the subject of Judaism and Christianity. Solomon heard about the plan and let it be known that he disapproved. His letter, or more likely Rachel's conveying his thoughts on the matter, does not survive, but Rebecca's response suggests that Sol thought that Gertrude was trying to convert her to Christianity. Rebecca defended her friend, "Mrs. M. is a sincere religionist and approaches with awe all sacred things. The testimonials of our divine inheritance are treated by her with the reverence they are entitled to and I should think myself very unworthy of my hope [her emphasis] of future rewards were I less liberal in my sentiments towards the Christian faith whose doctrines have purified the hearts of some of our best and most beloved friends." She does Sol the courtesy of giving him a serious response where other women (Sarah, for instance) would have told him to mind his own business. Ironically, in 1822 Sol and Rachel would name their new baby daughter Gertrude after Mrs. Meredith in honor of their long friendship and in gratitude for the Merediths' having named one of their daughters Miriam after Rachel's mother.
In 1808, Harriet Fenno Rodman, Rachel's best friend, was dying of tuberculosis in New York. Rachel, five months pregnant, was in no condition to go to her, and given Rachel's emotional nature, even if she had been well, she would have been more of a burden than a help in the sickroom. Rebecca volunteered to nurse their friend and wrote nearly every day, giving in her letters to Rachel a classic description of the final stages of the disease.
When Harriet died, Rebecca wrote to her sister Sarah and, instead of to Rachel, sent a letter to Sol. She obviously thought that the two of them would decide when and how to best tell Rachel.
It didn't work out that way.
Here is Sarah's description of what happened: "Sol received his letter early in the morning and after breakfast as he was going to his store, mentioned [that Harriet had died] as he would any other piece of intelligence. Not feeling himself on this occasion, he was unconscious what a stab he was inflicting in the heart of her he loved. She shrieked and fell, and in that situation I found her apparently lifeless. We assisted her to bed and I continued with her all day." The incident had no lasting physical effects on Rachel or her baby. Although Sarah carefully includes a reference to Sol's love of Rachel, she also makes it clear that this love is not so central to his being as the narcissism which prevented him from realizing the effect her best friend's death would have on his highly emotional wife.
Two anecdotes are not very much -- and that in itself says something about Rebecca's relationship with Solomon Moses. Although she lived in the same neighborhood with Rachel and Sol throughout their married life and raised their children after Rachel's death, Rebecca would rarely so much as mention Sol in her correspondence.
(Rebecca's comment on male superiority is from a letter in the Miscellaneous Manuscripts Collection at the Library of Congress. The other letters quoted here are from the Gratz Family Collection, Manuscript Collection No. 72, the American Philosophical Society.)