1905 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Moses Mendez

J. Percy Simpson, "Brother Moses Mendez, Grand Steward, 1738 (1690-1758)" Ars quatuor coronatum 18 (1905) 104-09.



Bro. Moses Mendez appears to have been born in the City of London, and, I believe, the son of a wealthy London Merchant, Bro. Solomon Mendez, Grand Steward in 1730, a member of Lodge No. 84 in the List of 1732. The family was probably of Spanish origin, the name being not uncommon in the Southern provinces of Spain. Two notable ecclesiastics bore this name: Peter Gonzales Mendez (1428-1495), Cardinal Archbishop of Seville, in the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella, and John Gonzales Mendez, Bishop of Lipari, and the Emperor's Ambassador to China, in 1584. He subsequently wrote a History of China, published in Paris, 1589. There was another Moses Mendez, who must not be confused with our Brother. He acquired some degree of unpleasant notoriety early in 1793, being tried for the murder of his uncle, Julian F. da Silva, a rich Spaniard, at Chelsea, but was acquitted on bringing witnesses forward to prove an alibi. He however committed suicide by taking arsenic on 23rd January, 1793.

Our Brother was first intended for the Bar, but eventually became a Stockbroker, and, apart from his father's fortune, appears to have acquired considerable wealth. He lived in London until about 1740, and associated himself with most of the literary and dramatic leaders of the period.

In 1738 he was appointed a Grand Steward, and it is possible, from the order in which his name appears on the list, that he was a member of the British Lodge then No. 5, and meeting at Braund's Head, New Bond Street.

He seems to have been one of the earliest friends and patrons of the Poet Thomson (See Cooper's Biographical Dictionary, page 858). Both were ardent lovers of the River Thames, and Thomson wrote much of his poetry while staying at the Dove's Coffee House, Hammersmith, and his house in Kew Lane. His death indeed was caused by contracting a severe chill when rowing from Hammersmith to Kew. He was buried in Richmond Parish Church on the 19th of August, 1748.

Many letters passed between the two friends, and, in the European Magazine for 1792, page 250 (which contains a portrait and short account of Mendez), an unpublished poem of Thomson, dedicated to Mrs. Mendez, is quoted:—

To Mrs. Mendez, on her Birthday, St. Valentine's Day.
Thine is the gentle day of love
When youth and virgin try their fate,
When deep retiring in the grove
Each feathered songster weds his mate.
With tempered beams the skies are bright,
Each decks in smiles her pleasing face,
Such is the day that gave thee light,
And speaks as such thy every grace.

In his collection of Poems by different authors, and published after his death, in 1767, as a supplement to Dodsley's Collections, 1761, there is a Poem by Mendez (page 305), entitled The Seasons, where he alludes to the death of Thomson.

Yet ere I sing the round revolving year
And show the wits and pastimes of the swain,
At Alcon's grave I drop a pious tear,
Right well he knew to raise his learned strain,
And, like his Milton, scorned the rhiming chain,
Ah! cruel fate, to tear him from our eyes,
Receive his wreath albe the tribute vain,
From the green sod may flowers immortal rise
To mark the sacred spot where the sweet poet lies.

Many of the most graceful and pleasing lines in the unpublished MS. Poems of Mendez relate to the Thames, and the beauties of its scenery, particularly in the neighbourhood of Richmond and Ham. Some indeed may be said to rival those of Thomson himself, as will be seen by a perusal of the long poem addressed to Mr. John Ellis, from Ham, and descriptive of scenes on the Thames, from Richmond to Oxford.

Bro. Mendez was also on intimate terms of friendship with Jonathan Swift, whom he visited on various occasions at Dublin. Possibly he may have met Swift in Masonic circles, as he and Pope were members of the Goat, at Foot Haymarket (List 1730) (See Sadler's Masonic Reprints, page xvi.). The Deane Swift, Esq., in the MSS. was the grandson of Godwin Swift, Jonathan Swift's uncle. He lived for some time with his relative, and wrote his biography. His name, "Deane," he derived from his maternal ancestor, Admiral Deane, the Regicide, and he died at Worcester 1789. There is also a Poem by Dr. Delany, the friend and Executor of J. Swift, who died at Bath in 1768.

We may gather from allusions in his Poems that Mendez was residing at Windsor in or about the year 1741, and, from an ode addressed to his friend, Mr. John Ellis, we find that Bro. Mendez had in 1754 taken up his residence at Ham, probably in one of the quaint old Queen Anne Houses we now see surrounding Ham Green. Doubtless there James Thomson would often come over from his house at Kew to visit his friend.

It seems difficult to obtain any contemporary account of Bro. Mendez. I can find one, and one only, which can be placed in that category. In 1764, a Mr. David Erskine Baker compiled a work known as the "Biographia Dramatica, or a Companion to the Playhouse, containing Historical and Critical Memoirs, and original anecdotes of British and Irish Dramatic Writers and Actors." A second edition was edited in 1782, by Isaac Reed, F.A.S., and a further edition, with considerable additions and improvements, in 1812, by Bro. Stephen Jones, P.M. of the Lodge of Antiquity, Author of Masonic Miscellanies, etc. The work is in three volumes, and now somewhat scarce. It cannot be classed as a full or reliable book of reference in all cases; for instance the lives of the greater Dramatic Poets of the 17th century appear to us at the present day meagre, inadequate, and in some instances inaccurate. Still these volumes contain a wealth of curious, and personal information respecting minor authors, and actors of the 18th century not otherwise obtainable. We have here a short account of Bro. Mendez (vol i., part ii., page 506). "This gentleman was of Jewish extraction and if we are not mistaken either a Stockbroker or a Notary Public. He was a person of considerable genius, of agreeable behaviour, entertaining in conversation, and had a very pretty turn for poetry. On the 19th of June, 1750, he was created M.A., by the University of Oxford. He was what poets rarely are extremely rich, being supposed to be at the time of his death, which happened the 4th day of February, 1758, worth £100,000. He wrote (inter alia) four Dramatic pieces, all of which met with success, and some of the Songs in two of them still continue favorites with persons of poetical and musical tastes." These pieces are shortly described in vols. ii. and iii. — (1) The Chaplet, a musical entertainment, by Moses Mendez, acted at Drury Lane in 1750. "This piece had a considerable run having the aid of some exquisite music by Boyce." (2) The Double Disappointment, a farce acted at Covent Garden, 1747. The principal parts being taken by Messrs. Barrington and Blakes. (3) Robin Hood, a musical entertainment, performed at Drury Lane in 1751. Music by Dr. Burney. (4) The Shepherds' Lottery, a musical entertainment, by Moses Mendez, acted at Drury Lane, 1751. There were several very pretty songs in it, and the music was by Dr. Boyce.

And now a few words with regard to the little MS. volume I am presenting to the Library. There are some printed extracts pasted in the latter part of the book, but it is mostly in writing. A large majority of the Poems, poetical Translations of Horace, etc., and letters are by Mendez. Masonic interest is centred mostly in a Poem by Philip Duke of Wharton (Grand Master in l722), and dated 1726, in three poems by Bro. Paul Whitehead, a friend of John Wilkes, a member of the "Monks of Medmenham," and the organiser with a Bro. Carey of a mock Masonic procession, and in a poem on Bro. Anstis, the Garter King at Arms, a Member of the University Lodge (No. 74 in List of 1730). I cannot find that any of these were ever published. There is also a witty song, by Mendez, in commemoration of many old London Taverns, some of them Masonic resorts of that time.

Some three or four most treasonable Jacobite songs appear, also written by Bro. Mendez, Dr. King, Principal of Saint Mary's Hall, Oxford, and Dr. Byrom, F.R.S., the author of the well-known toast drunk "over the water," beginning "God bless the King, God bless the Faith's Defender."

We find further poems in the volume by Dr. Kenrick, of the London Review, the critic of Johnson and Goldsmith. He lectured on Shakespeare at the old "Devil Tavern," Fleet Street, and there founded the "Pandemonium Club" in 1716, three years before his death. Two poems also by Anthony Henley, of The Tatler, who died in 1711, and whose second son became Lord Chancellor and was created Lord Northington. Odes by Dr. Merrick, Fellow of Trinity College, Oxon., whose sacred poems appear in the Dodsley Collection, and lastly some by Richard Savage, natural son of Earl Rivers, the author of the Wanderer and Bastard, who was convicted of murder but pardoned, and who died in prison at Bristol in 1743.

The interesting question now arises who was the writer of the MSS. before us? For some time I must confess that I was of opinion that it must be Mendez himself, and this was rather confirmed by my finding that none of the poems or extracts are dated later than 1756, two years before his death. I thought, not unnaturally, that this must be the MS. Collection of Poems which was eventually published after his death, but under his name in 1767. However, on inspecting at the British Museum this Collection of about forty Poems, published by Richardson and Urquhart, Royal Exchange, I find that only two Poems, one by a Mr. King, and the other by Lord Harvey, are reproduced in print from the MSS., and three Poems only, viz: — (1) Author's account of his journey to Ireland to Mr. John Ellis, 1744; (2) Poem to his friend Mr. Tucker; (3) "The Seasons," are written by Mendez, and none of these appear in the MS. volume.

If then the Book is not in the handwriting of Mendez in whose is it? I think from the perusal of an Article on Mr. Deputy John Ellis, in the European Magazine, a probable alternative may be found. I have come across this Mr. John Ellis before. He was Deputy of the Broad Street Ward in 1750, when Robert Rawlinson, the brother of the Masonic Historian, was Alderman, and William Acton, afterwards Master of the Caveac Lodge at the Caveac Tavern, Spread Eagle Court, was Treasurer of the Ward.

Allusion has been made above to this Mr. John Ellis as a friend of Mendez, to whom he addressed many of his Poems, particularly one from Dublin in 1744, and another from Ham in 1754. A very full biography of this gentleman can be found in the January number of the European Magazine for 1792. It was probably written by the first Editor of the Magazine, Bro. James Perry, Deputy Grand Master of the Antients (1787-1790), and a member of the Mount Lebanon Lodge, No. 73. Whether John Ellis was a Brother I cannot ascertain, he seems, however, to have been intimately associated with many members of the Craft. A portrait of Mr. Ellis forms the frontispiece to the Article, and the contents are deeply interesting.

John Ellis was born on the 22nd of March, 1698, in the Parish of St. Clement Danes, of parents who appear to have been of the strictest of the Puritan sect. He was apprenticed to a Mr. Taverner, Scrivenor, of Threadneedle Street, and who is probably the Bro. Taverner, Grand Steward in 1732. Subsequently he set up business for himself behind the Royal Exchange. He was much esteemed in his profession and prospered greatly, being four times chosen Master of the Scrivenors' Company. The Scrivenors' Company received their Charter in 1716, under the title of "The Society of Writers of the City of London." It had its Hall in Aldersgate Street, and when the Company dissolved the Coachmakers' Company took the Hall over, in consequence of his distinguished services the Company had a portrait of Mr. Ellis painted by Fry, and presented to him.

It is curious to find that with such a bringing up and associations, he was the intimate friend of many of the most famous Poets and Literati of the time. Bro. Perry, however, singles out Bro. Moses Mendez as the most closely associated with him. Boswell, in his life of Johnson (vol. ii., page 54), quotes a remark of the Doctor. "It is wonderful Sir, what is to be found in the City. The most literary conversation I ever enjoyed was at the table of Jack Ellis, a Scrivenor behind the Royal Exchange, with whom I at one period used to dine once a week." Needless to say the assiduous Boswell called on Mr. Ellis, and expresses his delight at the interview, stating (inter alia) that "in the summer of this year (1791) Mr. Ellis, being 93 years old, walked to Rotherhithe, dined there, and walked back in the evening." Whether the interview was mutually agreeable history does not relate.

What chiefly concerns us, however, is that the writer of the article goes on to state that Mr. Ellis was himself a writer and collector of Poems. He published a Translation of Ovid's Epistles, a well-known Poem called "The South Sea Dream," etc. A number, however, remained in MS. and were never published. One of these unpublished Poems addressed by Moses Mendez to his friend John Ellis, from Ham, in 1754, and then in the possession of one of his Executors, Bro. Perry promises his readers shall appear in the next (February) number of the European Magazine. He carries out his promise, and it is the Poem word for word as it appears in our MS. volume. I think perhaps it is a fair inference that this was the source from which the Poem came, and that the volume either written by Moses Mendez or John Ellis had passed, on the death of the latter, into the possession of Bro. Perry, or someone connected with the European Magazine. In order, if possible, to clear up this point I searched for and found Mr. Ellis' Will, dated the 4th December, 1788, in which appoints Mr. Wm. Whately Hussey, Secretary of the Scrivenor's Company, and Mr. John Sewell, Bookseller, of Cornhill, his Executors. To the latter he bequeaths "all his poetical works, both printed and in "manuscript, and all copyright therein." Mr. John Sewell was at that time printer and publisher of the European Magazine.

Truly a remarkable man this Mr. Ellis, whose diary, if he had kept one, would have been one of the most interesting records of City life during the 18th century. He was much respected and beloved, and did not lack the virtue of charity, for we are told that he had many poor relatives and friends pensioners on his bounty. I was about to pass by a little anecdote related of him at the end of the account of his life, but on looking again at the strong, rugged, yet kindly face in the portrait, it seems very characteristic of the man. As I have mentioned above, Mr. Ellis was, even after his 90th year, wont to take long solitary walks in the country or by the sea-shore near Deal, where he had resided in his early days. Whilst thus engaged on a Sunday morning, a friend met him and made the remark that he was taking his walk in Church time. "Sir," he replied, "I have read Noah walked with God," and passed on. The answer seems to find echo in those well-known lines:—

I love not man the less but nature more,
From these our interviews in which I steal,
From all I may be or have been before,
To mingle with the Universe, and feel
What I can ne'er express, yet cannot all conceal.

And now in conclusion a last word with regard to our Bro. Mendez. In one of the three Poems of his in the published Collection of 1767, there is one addressed to his friend Mr. S. Tucker, in which he half apologises for writing to him in verse, and adds:—

And yet perhaps to lose my time this way
Is better far than some mispend the day
The fatal dice has never filled my hands
By me no orphan weeps his ravished lands
What word can charge me with a deed unjust,
What friend upbraid me with a broken trust.
(Some few except whom pride and folly blind
I found them chaff and gave them to the wind)
Like some poor bird and one of meanest wing
Around my cage I flutter hop and sing
Unlike in this my brethren of the bays
I sue for pardon and they hope for praise.

A pleasant, modest picture of himself, a man who as far as I can gather from all the references was greatly admired by all who knew him, and who if he had been a poorer man might have been a "greater Poet."

I gather that Bro. Mendez retired into the country about 1756, and took up his residence at St. Andrew's Hall, Old Buckenham, Norfolk. There he died on the 4th of February, 1758. His Will is dated the 19th March, 1757, and he left his wife, Anne Gabrielle Mendez, sole Executrix. He leaves all the residue of his property after certain legacies to her for life, and after her death to be divided between his two sons, Francis Mendez and James Roper Mendez. He leaves £5,000 to his sister, Tabitha, if she shall not marry E. da Costa, alias William Bared. If she does so marry the legacy is to be reduced to £1. As Mendez was nearly 70 when he made his Will Miss Tabitha must surely have been old enough to choose for herself. I see there was a Da Costa at that time a collector of and well known authority on fossils. Could this be the gentleman? The witnesses to his Will were his old friend Mr. John Ellis and his clerk.

Some later Chancery proceedings show that the widow Mendez soon afterwards married the Hon. John Roper, of Norfolk, and that in 1777 the two sons, Francis and John Roper, took the surname of "Head," instead of Mendez.

I have added to the Book portraits of Moses Mendez, John Ellis, Dr. Wm. King and Dr. Byrom.