Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A Pillar of Society

Nathan Rothschild was a formidable presence in London.

Frederick Morton says, "Napoleon on the battlefield was clad in no more dread mystery than Nathan Rothschild on the Royal 'Change. Like Napoleon, he always materialized in the same pose: he leaned against the 'Rothschild pillar' (the first one on the right as one entered from the Cornhill entrance), hung his heavy hands into his pockets, and began to release silent motionless, implacable cunning."

His calm never left him. "It was his armor against the high world over which he was ruler without ever having been its equal.

The story goes that one day there swept through Nathan's offices in London an august ducal personage. He wore a visage of such fury that no clerk dared to stay him. He broke into Nathan's private chamber and shouted his grievance. Nathan, not lifting an eye from his ledger said, 'Take a chair.' The personage roared his ancient lineage, his illustrious connection, slapped down a crested card before the banker's nose. Nathan glanced at the card for a fraction of a second.
'Take two chairs,' and he continued writing.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Jew, Do Your Duty

Jud, mach mores! Jew, do your duty!

If a Jew heard these words he was obliged-even if uttered by a mere boy- to doff his hat and step to one side.

This was only one of many restrictions placed on the Jews of Frankfurt. The population of the ghetto was restricted to 500 families. Only 12 marriages were allowed a year and the age of marriage was 25. No more than 2 Jews from the outside were allowed to settle in the ghetto each year.

Jews were not permitted to live outside the ghetto. They had to wear an identifying insignia, were confined ever night, on Sundays, and Christian holidays.
They were not permitted to walk in town more than two abreast. They were barred from entering parks, inns, coffee houses, promenades, or near the town's ancient cathedral.

They could only go to the market during set hours and were forbidden from touching vegetables and fruits.

The fight for Jewish rights is central to the story in The Rothschilds.
Even after they become bankers to royalty they are still forced to live behind the ghetto gates.

Amshel expresses this frustration when he says:

This whole experience has taught us what we can do and what we can't. We thought we were Moses leading our people out of slavery. We're not. We're only merchant bankers. We have no miracles at our disposal.

They put their entire fortune at risk to force Metternich to follow through on his promise to eliminate the Jewish restrictions.

Nathan: Metternich's group has its monies invested in a new peace bond, counting on the rise in price. What if, just as they release their new bond...we dump our old bonds on the market, driving the price down....

Solomon: Nathan, if you're serious...you're advocating suicide.

Nathan: No we can force Metternich and company to give us everything we've been promised.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

"Herries Here, John Herries"

In 1813 Nathan became a close associate of the British Commissary General, John Charles Herries, the man responsible for financing Wellington's invasion of France.

John Herries worked his way up through the ranks of government. During his tenure as Commissary General he used the help of Nathan to transfer money to the British and allied army troops on the continent. No easy feat.
Rothschild's role in these transfers was one of the foundations that led to the success of the English banking empire.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Pleasure and Privilege

"Pleasure and Privilege" is not just some clever song title Harnick and Bock devised for their very haughty song about the uppercrust of society.

"Privilege" was actually a law upon which the whole French system of government was based. "Privilege" were private laws that only applied to "you." It was a special entitlement or immunity granted to a restricted group either by birth or on a conditional basis.

One of the objectives of the French Revolution was he abolition of privilege. This meant removing the different laws for different social classes so all would be ruled by common law.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

"Daughters, I Need Daughters"

Well that's not exactly what Mayer said. "Sons, I need sons." is what he really said.

Gutele asks at the beginning of the play, "What if they are daughters?" and later Prince William says, "And Rothschild...next time you come to court...do bring some daughters."

Just idle dialogue from the authors? Not likely.

So did Mayer have any daughters? Absolutely, remember the will? Mayer and Gutele had 10 children; 5 sons and 5 daughters-Schonge Jeannette, Isabella, Babette, Julie, and Henrietta.

Back to the will; Mayer stipulated that none of the daughters or their future husbands could inherit the family business. So you can imagine where that leaves the women and their daughters. Solomon's son Amselm married Nathan's daughter Charlotte, Kalman's son Mayer married Nathan's daughter Louise (poor Louise and Kalman- they had 7 children- all girls), Nathan's son Nathaniel married Jacob's daughter Charlotte. Nieces married uncles, cousins married cousins and it was kept all in the family. Actually not that unusual during this time period.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

A Rothschild for Today

The current issue of The New Yorker has an article entitled "Message in a Bottle" about 30-year-old David de Rothschild, 21st Century descendant of Mayer, who this summer will begin a voyage from San Francisco to Sydney, Australia, in a boat made entirely out of plastic bottles and other recycled materials. Along the way he will visit the "Eastern Garbage Patch," a piece of the ocean that epitomizes the threat plastics pose to birds, turtle, and fish. De Rothschild's "eco-trip" will transmit photos and video clips to his Adventure Ecology website. Both the trip and the vessel--named the "Plastiki"--are inspired by Thor Heyerdahl's voyage in the Kon Tiki 62 years ago.

David is the son of the manager of the British branch of the banking empire, which could indicate he's one of Nathan's ancestors; on the other hand, the "de" in his name would indicate he came from the French branch of the family.

Younger members of our cast (and their parents) may identify with the article's depiction of David as a child. He is described by both his parents as a classically hyperactive kid, constantly getting into trouble and jumping out of windows. But when taken to a psychiatrist for an evaluation, he sat quietly and listened patiently for the entire session. Then, back in the elevator as they left the office, he immediately punched all the buttons on the elevator panel to show his parents who was in charge. His brother Andrew describes their shared childhood as having been shaped by David's restlessness and disregard for danger: "I was constantly saying, 'No, don't do that, don't do that!" Risk-taking remains in the blood, two hundred years after the events of our play.


Thursday, April 2, 2009

A Private Arcadia

See the couples dancing
To flute and violin
Aren't you rather jealous that you
can't come in?

A world of pleasure and privilege
elegant, elite
A private Arcadia
Where life is sweet.

Arcadia; the mystical Greek mountain refuge . One of the birthplaces reported for Zeus is Mount Lycaeum in Arcadia.

It was also said to be the birthplace of Zeus' son Hermes.

Arcadia was a rustic secluded area and its inhabitants symbolized the simple pastoral life and may refer to some imaginary idyllic paradise immortalized by Virgil's Eclogues. The area was conquered and reconquered and after 400. years of Ottoman occupation it became the center of the Greek War of Independence.

Along with its reference by Harnick and Boch there are dozens of references in pop culture. Arcadia was a band created as a project by the 80's band Duran Duran. In a Doctor Who episode the Doctor mentions being "there at the fall of Arcadia, in the video game BioShock, "Arcadia" is the name of an area in one of the levels, with an artificial forest touted as a vacation paradise. In the film 300 Leonidas is joined by a group of Arcadians to help him fight the Persians. There is a militaristic empire known as Archadia in Playstation 2 Game Final Fantasy. You'll see references to Arcadia in The X Files, The Legend of Zelda, the game Battle of Olympus, Stardust Classics children's fantasy novels and the list goes on.

In 1772, the private Arcadia in the Rothschild's was a reference to the pampered, privileged lives of the aristocratic court; costly clothes, carefree lives, pampered faces, fragrant powdered and scented figures, "the gay and gilded sphere."