Steadily though slowly, brighter, if not better, days were coming. “Thought once awakened shall not again slumber.” As Carlyle says of the French of that period, it became clear for the first time to the upturned eyes of the Jews, “that Thought has actually a kind of existence in other kingdoms [than the Talmud]; that some glimmerings of civilization had dawned here and there on the human species.” They begin to try all things; they visit Germany, France, Denmark, Holland, even England; learn their literatures, study in their universities, and contribute their quota to the apologetic, controversial, scientific, and philosophic investigations “with a candor and real love of improvement which give the best omens of a still higher success.” Fortune, indeed, has cast them also into a cavern, and they are groping around darkly. But this prisoner, too, is a giant, and he will, at length, burst forth as a giant into the light of day.
(Notes, pp. 310-314.)
THE DAWN OF HASKALAH
A glimmer of light pierced the Russian sky at the accession of Catherine II (1762-1796). This “Semiramis of the North,” the admirer of Buffon, Montesquieu, Diderot, and, more especially, Voltaire, whose motto, N’en croyez rien, she adopted, endeavored, and for a while not without success, to introduce into her own country the spirit of tolerance which pervaded France. Her ukases were intended for all alike, “without distinction of religion and nationality.” Her regard for her Jewish citizens she showed by allowing them to settle in the interior, establish printing-presses (January 27, 1783), and become civil and Government officers (April 2, 1785). In the edict promulgated by Governor-General Chernyshev it is stated that “religious liberty and inviolability of property are hereby granted to all subjects of Russia and certainly to the Jews; for the humanitarian principles of her Majesty do not permit the exclusion of the Jews alone from the favors shown to all, so long as they, as faithful subjects, continue to employ themselves, as hitherto, with commerce and trade, each according to his vocation.” That she remained true to her promise, we see from the numerous privileges enjoyed by many Jews, who began to frequent Moscow and St. Petersburg and reside there for business purposes.
Paul (1796-1801), too, was kindly disposed toward the Jews, and permitted them to live in Courland; and when Alexander I (1801-1825) became czar, their hopes turned into certainty. Alexander I did, indeed, appear a most promising ruler at his accession. The theories he had acquired from Laharpe he fully intended to apply to practical life. Like Catherine, he wished to rule in equity and promote the welfare of his subjects irrespective of race or creed. He ordered a commission to investigate the status of the Russian Jews (December 9, 1802). The result