Thursday, 14 April 2011

Interesting connection with Israel Zangwill

Some excitement recently in connection with the genealogical research I am undertaking for my New York client. It has transpired that a great uncle of his, one Nathaniel Cooper, worked with the future author Israel Zangwill at the Jews’ Free School in Bell Lane, Spitalfields. The two were educated at the School, and went on to teach there in the 1880s; as almost exact contemporaries – Nathaniel was born in Whitechapel on 29 April 1864, Zangwill on 21 January 1864 – they surely knew each other.
On discovering the connection, I immediately checked the National Register of Archives to see where Zangwill’s papers are located. It was no surprise to find that there is a significant deposit of papers (including some of his brother Louis) among the Jewish collections at Southampton University Library: MSS 294–5, to be exact. Further investigation of the University’s online catalogue revealed that MS 294 includes some material relating to Zangwill’s early life and education at the Jews’ Free School (and MS 153 contains some early minutes and papers of the School itself). Zangwill’s papers might conceivably shed oblique light on Nathaniel’s formative education and early working life as a youthful ‘pupil teacher’ (as he – and Zangwill – is described on the 1881 census) at the JFS, and in an ideal world I would undertake a research trip to Southampton to consult them, but this, alas, is not an ideal world and time will not permit …
It is interesting to speculate if Nathaniel and Zangwill were on friendly terms, and if so, whether they maintained personal contact in later life. Zangwill’s literary celebrity – considerable in his day – remains to some extent, but Nathaniel pursued a more humble path, working as a schoolmaster, at the JFS until at least the late 1890s and then in Ilford. I have yet to establish the school at which he taught in Ilford; perhaps that could be my next project.  

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