Excerpt from Memoirs by Glikl
The is a diary written by a Jewish merchant, Glikl of Hameln, a woman living in northern Germany in the 17th century.
This source is a part of the Women and Gender in World History, 600-2000 teaching module.
“My mother had already learned the trade of making gold and silver lace, and God in His mercy saw to it that she received orders from the Hamburg merchants. At first Jacob Rees, of blessed memory, went surety for her; but when the merchants found that she knew her business and was prompt in her deliveries they trusted her without surety. Next she taught the trade to a number of young girls and engaged them to work by her side, so that finally she was able to provide a living for her mother and clean, decent clothes for herself. Little enough, however, remained over, and often my dear mother had nothing but a crust of bread the livelong day. She never complained, but put her faith in God who had never forsaken her...
At that time I had a manufactory for Hamburger stockings, many thousands’ worth of which I turned out for my own account. And my unlucky son writes me to send him a thousand thalers and more of stockings, and I did so.
Then I meet at the Brunswick Fair certain Amsterdam merchants who hold my son’s notes for about 800 Reichsthalers. My son Loeb writes me I can safely take up the notes—he will forward me the money to Hamburg. As I always stood by my children, I said to myself, I shall not put him to shame by protesting the notes, and I proudly paid him.
When I returned home from the Brunswick Fair, I expected to find bills of exchange from my son Loeb. But nothing awaited me, and when I wrote to him, he sent me all kinds of answers none of which pleased me. What was I to do? I needs needs must content myself.
Two weeks later, a good friend came to me and said,“I cannot keep it from you, I must tell you that your son Loeb’s business mislikes me, for he is heavily plunged in debt. He owes his brother-in-law Model 4000 Reichsthalers, and Model sits in his store, that is to say, he watches after things. But he is a child and cannot attend to his business. He is out gulping good and drink at all hours and everyone is lord and master of the store. Your son Loeb is too nice and good, and easily led by the nose. Added to that, the Berliners are bleeding him with their interest. Moreover, he has two wolves at his flanks, one is that Wolf Mirels—son of the Hamburg rabbi Solomon Mirels—and the other is Wolf the brother-in-law of the learned Benjamin Mirels. Every day this second Wolf goes to the store and makes off with what he pleases. Finally, your son does business with Polish Jews, so much so, I know, that he has already rid himself of more than 4000 thalers.”
Such and more of the like my good friend told me, and my soul nearly died within me, and I fainted on the spot.
When my friend saw my shock, he tried to console me and said he believed that with some one to stand by him my son could still be saved.
I told him all I had heard to my sons Nathan and Mordecai. They shrank with fright and said he owed them several thousands. God knows what it meant for me—my son Loeb owed me alone more than 3000 Reichsthalers—but I had little minded it were not his brother so deepled immersed. But what could we do in our distress? We dare speak of it to no one.
We agreed that I should accompany my son Mordecai to the Leipzig Fair and see how matters stood. When we reached Leipzig we found my son Loeb already on hand, as was his wont, and laden with goods.
I now began to talk with him. “They are saying,” I said, “thus and so of you. Bethink yourself of God and of your good and honest father, that you bring us not to shame.” He answered, “You need not worry over me. But recently—it was not a month ago—my father-in-law had visiting him his brother-in-law Wolf of Prague, and we reckoned up my accounts and he found me, praise God, in excellent shape.” Whereat I said to him, “Show me your balance sheet.” He replied, “I haven’t it with me; but do me the favour to come to Berlin and I will show you everything to your content.” “In any case,” I concluded, “buy not a jot more goods.”
But my back was no sooner turned than Reb Isaac and Reb Simon, son of Rabbi Mann of Hamburg, sold him on credit more than 1400 thalers of goods. When I learned of it, I went to them and begged them in Heaven’s name withdraw the sale, for my son needs must give over the merchandise trade, else it be his ruin. But it was all to no purpose, and they forced my son to take his wares.
After the fair, I accompanied my son Mordecai, Hirschel Ries and the other Berliners to Berlin.
Once I was in his house, my son Loeb said to me, “I fancy my one mistake is to have tied up too much money in goods.” Whereupon I told him, “You owe me more than 3000 Reichsthalers—for my part I am satisfied to take it in goods at the price they cost you.” “Mother dear,” he said, “if you are willing to do that, it will ease me of my difficulties, and no one need lose a penny through me.”
The next day I went with my son to his store, and truly, he was badly overladen with goods. He gave me 3000 Reichsthalers of merchandise at the price it cost him. And you can imagine the face I made. But regardless of everything, I only sought to help my children.
We had the goods packed in bales to send on to Hamburg. Then I noticed the two bales of goods my son had bought in Leipzig from Reb Isaac and Reb Simon the Hamburg merchants, and I said to my son, “Send back those two bundles of goods, and I shall see to it they are accepted, even if I pay for them from my own pocket. And now, ” I continued, “that you have repaid your debt to me, what of my sons Nathan and Mordecai?” He had on hand bills of exchange and Polish paper amounting to over 12,000 Reichsthalers, and he gave them to my son Mordecai by way of payment.
After sitting the whole day in his store, we went home together; and you would be right in thinking I did not enjoy my supper...
At that time I was busied in the merchandise trade, selling every month to the amount of five or six hundred Reichsthalers. Further, I went twice a year to the Brunswick Fair and each time made my several thousands profit, so in all, had I been left in peace, I would have soon repaired the loss I suffered through my son.
My business prospered, I procured me wares from Holland, I bought nicely in Hamburg as well, and disposed of the goods in a store of my own. I never spared myself, summer and winter I was out on my travels, and I ran about the city the livelong day.
What is more, I maintained a lively trade in seed pearls. I bought them from all the Jews, selected and assorted them, and then resold them in towns where I knew they were in good demand.
My credit grew by leaps and bounds. If I had wanted 20,000 Reichsthalers banko during a session of the Bourse, it would have been mine.
“Yet all this availeth me nothing.” I saw my son Loeb, a virtuous young man, pious and skilled in Talmud, going to pieces before my eyes.
One day I said to him, “Alas, I see nothing ahead of you. As for me, I have a big business, more indeed than I can manage. Come then, work for me in my business and I will give you two per cent of all the sales.”
My son Loeb accepted the proposal with great joy. Moreover, he set to work diligently, and he could soon have been on his feet had not his natural bent led him to his ruin. He became, through my customers, well known among the merchants, who placed great confidence in him. Nearly all my business lay in his hands.”