Disraeli Quote on PQHN

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at RCI.RUTGERS.EDU
Mon Feb 7 05:16:51 UTC 2005

On Sun, 6 Feb 2005 17:33:50 -0500, I wrote:

>On Sun, 6 Feb 2005 16:55:41 -0500, Fred Shapiro <fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU>
>>If I can impose upon the list one more time:  Is anyone willing to check
>>ProQuest Historical Newspapers to find an 1893 Chicago Tribune occurrence
>>of the Disraeli quote about "my ancestors" (something along the line of my
>>ancestors were priests in the temple of Solomon when yours were
>>savages...)?  I would need the exact wording and dating.
>Chicago Daily Tribune, Jan 22, 1893. p. 38
>The people out there in the Kentucky County of Virginia resembled at the
>time Disraeli's description of their relative forefathers when they had
>called him a Jew: "When my ancestors were worshiping in the temple," he
>said, "yours were naked barbarians."
>But here are earlier cites:
>Washington Post, Mar 28, 1878, p. 2
>Jewish Times: Lady Rosebery has blue blood than her husband; her family
>tree is much more ancient than his. To quote Disraeli, her ancestors were
>princes in the temple when Lord Rosebery's ancestors were savages in the

(For "blue" in the above quote, read "bluer".)

I also see references to a very similar quote supposedly made by Senator
Judah Peter Benjamin of Louisiana, some time prior to the Civil War
(during which time he was Secretary of War for the Confederacy).

Mendele: Yiddish literature and language
Vol. 3.234, February 13, 1994

Date: Sat Feb 12 14:32:59 1994
Subject: Benjamin said it first

Judah P. Benjamin did say in the US Senate prior to 1861 in a reply
to another senator," The gentleman will please remember that when
his half-civilized ancestors were hunting the wild boar in the
forests of Silesia, mine were the princes of the earth". This
putdown may or not have carried across the Atlantic, but probably
the seminary quotation was the reply made by Benjamin Disraeli (1801
-1881) in the House of Commons when taunted by Irish Daniel
O'Connel, "Yes, I am a Jew, and when the ancestors of the right
honorable gentleman were brutal savages in an unknown island, mine
were priests in the temple of Solomon". George Bernard Shaw was
certainly aware of that putdown, and adopted it in his play "Caesar
and Cleopatra". Viper-tounged, mini-brained Henry Mencken(1880-1956)
probably saw the play and adapted it to his anti-semitic insult. Vi
a tzibeleh.

Hirsh Schipper (I have not checked Caesar and Cleopatra)

The earliest mention I've found on Proquest for the Judah Benjamin story
is in a New York Times "Queries and Answers" column of July 10, 1921, in a
response to a query about the Disraeli quote.  An earlier source is given
for the Judah Benjamin version: "Reminiscences of Sixty Years in the
National Metropolis" by Benjamin Perley Poore (Philadelphia, 1886).

--Ben Zimmer

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