Mendelsohn, Moses

, a Jewish philosophical writer, was born at Dessau, in Anhalt, in 1729. After being educated under his father, who was a schoolmaster, he devoted every hour he could spare to literature, and obtained as a scholar a distinguished reputation; but his father ber ing unable to maintain him, he was obliged, in search of labour, or bread, to go on foot, at the age of fourteen, to Berlin, where he lived for some years in indigence, and frequently in want of necessaries. At length he got employment from a rabbi as a transcriber of Mss, who, at the same time that he afforded him the means of subsistence, liberally initiated him into the mysteries of the theology, the jurisprudence, and scholastic philosophy of the Jews. The study of philosophy and general literature became from this time his favourite pursuit, but the fervours of | application to learning were by degrees alleviated and animated by the consolations of literary friendship. He formed a strict intimacy with Israel Moses, a Polish Jew, who, without any advantages of education, had become an able, though self-taught, mathematician and naturalist. Hg very readily undertook the office of instructor of Mendelsohn, in subjects of which he was before ignorant; and taught him the Elements of Euclid from his own Hebrew version. The intercourse between these young men was not of long duration, owing to the calumnies propagated against Israel Moses, which occasioned his expulsion from the communion of the orthodox; in consequence of this he became the victim of a gloomy melancholy and despondence, which terminated in a premature death. His loss, which was a grievous affliction to Mendelsohn, was in some measure supplied by Dr. Kisch, a Jewish physician, by whose assistance he was enabled to attain a competent knowledge of the Latin language. In 1748 he became acquainted with another literary Jew, viz. Dr. Solomon Gumperts, by whose encouragement and assistance he attained a general knowledge of the living and modern languages, and particularly the English, by which he was enabled to read the great work of our immortal Locke in his own idiom, which he had before studied through the medium of the Latin language. About the same period he enrolled the celebrated Lessing among his friends, to whom he was likewise indebted for assistance in his literary pursuits. The scholar amply repaid the efforts of his intructor, and soon became his rival and his associate, and after his death the defender of his reputation against Jacobi, a German writer, who had accused Lessing of atheism. Mendelsohn died Jan. 4, 1785, at the age of fifty-seven, highly respected and beloved by a numerous acquaintance, and by persons of very different opinions. When his remains were consigned to the grave, he received those honours from his nation which are commonly paid to their chief rabbies. As an author, the first piece was published in 1755, entitled “Jerusalem,” in which he maintains that the Jews have a revealed law, but not a revealed religion, but that the religion of the Jewish nation is that of nature. His work entitled “Phaedon, a dialogue on the Immortality of the Soul,” in the manner of Plato, gained him much honour: in this hepresents the reader with all the arguments of modern philosophy, stated with great force | and perspicuity, and recommended by the charms of elegant writing. From the reputation which he obtained by this masterly performance, he was entitled by various periodical writers the “Jewish Socrates.” It was translated into French in 1773, and into the English, by Charles Cullen, esq. in 1789. Among his other works, which are all creditable to his talents, he wrote “Philosophical Pieces;” “A Commentary on Part of the Old Testament;” “Letters on the Sensation of the Beautiful.1


Rees’s Cyclopædia.—Biog. Sketch of the Jewish Socrates.—Gent. Mag. 1788.