Disraeli Quote on PQHN

Geoffrey Nunberg nunberg at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Tue Feb 8 05:35:32 UTC 2005

I have heard the Judah P. Benjamin version as well. I've also heard
variants on this theme used in other contexts -- most unforgettably
when I was in Rome several years ago at a time when a convention of
leghisti (members of the separatist Lega del Nord) had descended on
the city. A local TV program featured a debate between a leghista and
and a Roman intellectual, who at one point said dismissively: "Mentre
i vostri allenati vangarono le foreste, i miei furono gia' froci" --
"While your ancestors were wandering around in the forests, mine were
already fags."

Geoff Nunberg

>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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