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Add.6463(e)3416: Breathing the 'dust of centuries'

By Melonie Schmierer-Lee

This letter was written three weeks after Solomon Schechter arrived in Egypt. He writes to Francis Jenkinson, the University Librarian, describing his work in the Genizah chamber and his dealings with the local men who were assisting him. His main purpose, however, is to notify Jenkinson that he plans to send the first batch of manuscripts on ahead, and, as he intends to offer the manuscripts to the Library, would the Library look after them until Schechter’s return. The letter was preserved among Jenkinson’s papers, and eventually deposited in the University Library itself.

 

Hotel Metropole

Cairo 12 Jan 97

(c/o Cook’s Agency)

Private

Dear Mr. Jenkinson,

I am now here since three weeks. After making the acqai acquaintance of the Chief Rabbi here and the president of the Jewish community I set to work on the “Genizas” where I spent spend the most of my time in the dust of centuries. The beadel & other infernal scoundrels are helping me to clear away the rubbish and the printed matter. I have constantly to bakeshish them, but still they are stealing many good things and sell them to the dealers in an antiquities. I cannot possibly prevent it, but I found out the said dealers and bought from them the fragments which have interest for me. In the Genizah itself which is dark dusty and full of all possible in insects there is no opportunity of examining the content of MSS. My policy is to take as much as I can (for which I have the full permission of the authorities). I have till now thirteen large sacks bags of fragments, of which though not examined, I am su sure, contain many most important things.

Now I have a great request on you. I do not consider it desirable to the MSS here and am anxious to send the first lot hone home to England. Will you receive them give them a place in the University Library till I return. The MSS will probably belong soon to your Library. I want only to hear first whether you and the Syndics will agree to certain conditions which I have to make. Money plays no important part in these conditions and I am sure you will find them very fair and just. But till then I want the MSS to be considered as my private property; so that the boxes must not be opened before I have returned. For I am very anxious to [be] the first to examine them properly. Can If you cannot agree to these condition will you do me the favou favour to send at once - when the boxes to arrive for Mrs Schechter (2 Rock Road) and hand her over the boxes, who will bring them into some place of saf safety till I return p.g.

I repeat again that I do not mean to make a bargain with the University. I have not the least doubt that you will find the terms just and fair. What I am chiefly anxious is that no body would th see the MSS before I have examined them. Therefore I want you to consider them as my private property till then.

I feel fairly well and am rather thankful that it is cold. Otherwise it would be unbearable to live in this dus[t] & underground. How are you? PG I intend to stay here another three weeks as the Jews have here so many feasts and fasts in which I cannot work.

 

With best regards,
yours very truly

S. Schechter

 

 

 

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Cambridge University Library Add.6463(e)3416: Solomon Schechter's letter to Francis Jenkinson, University Librarian

 

Contact us: genizah@lib.cam.ac.uk

 

 

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