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M. E. Slapoffski of Oxford

by Harold Pollins

Originally published in Oxford Menorah issue no. 176, Pesach 2005

You can reach the catalogue of the Bodleian Library on the Internet. Anyone can do it and search its numerous holdings although you cannot order anything to read if you are not a registered reader. I was doing some research on Oxford Jewish history, in particular on a family called Slapoffski. There are brief references to one M.E. Slapoffski in David Lewis’s The Jews of Oxford (1992) although in fact there were two families in Oxford with the same surname at the same time, in the late nineteenth century. Both were in the music business. I discovered that the ‘M.E.’ concealed the forenames Marcus Eleazer Ert.

I idly inserted the name Slapoffski in the Bodleian catalogue, not expecting anything, and to my surprise found an entry for this very M.E. Slapoffski. It was to a publication by him entitled Autumn Gleanings, published in Oxford ‘c.1900’ (a date guessed at by the cataloguer). What surprised me was its subject classification: ‘Theology - Miscellaneous Christian Texts - English’.  It was very odd that he had allegedly published a work of Christianity.  I had had correspondence with his grandson, also originally Marcus Slapoffski, but changed to Slapp by Deed Poll, and he was certainly Jewish.

I ordered the publication. It proved to be a pamphlet of 24 pages, and was bound up in the same volume with 11 Christian pamphlets. It was published by M.E. Slapoffski at 80 St Aldate’s Street. On the front cover was printed: ‘The proceeds of the sale of this Booklet will be to benefit the poor and needy in general, orphan children in particular’. There were twelve sections: Meditations on Eternity; Thoughts on Charity; Prayer; Meditations in old age; Prayer in Poverty; Thoughts on the Judgment Day; The Essential Conditions for obtaining Mercy, Meditations in Prosperity; Prayer for Maintenance; Self Examination to be made each night; On Prayer; and A Parable. Here are a few quotations from the section ‘Meditations in old age’. As in the booklet generally, he is praising God to whom he speaks directly.

        "On looking back through my long career, I find everywhere proofs of Thy love, and traces of Thy Benevolence".
        (Certainly he was in his 70s, having been born in the early 1820s,  and thus had had a long career).

         "Permit that my later days, devoted to piety and benevolence, may be an example to my family, and  make my memory revered".

         "What pure and sweet joys I have experienced; how many dangers I have escaped; what misfortunes Thy paternal hand has averted, and, when, in Thy justice. Thou didst send trials, did I not owe the courage and resignation which supported me to Thy help, and didst Thou not mercifully deliver me, O my Father".

This last quotation is a little surprising, especially when he wrote: "what misfortune Thy paternal hand has averted". Three of his six children had died in infancy, and his young wife (some thirty years younger than he), had died in 1889, before he wrote the booklet.

One thing is very clear. This is very much a Jewish publication not least because the only references are to books in the Old Testament, especially Proverbs and the Psalms. Two footnotes; as to the contents, I completed the relevant form I obtained at the Bodleian Library on which to report possible errors in the catalogue. I stated that the author was Jewish and that its subject categorisation in the catalogue was wrong. With surprising promptness I received a pleasant e-mail  from the appropriate Bodleian official in which he stated: ‘The work has now been recatalogued and the misleading subject information has been deleted’. I checked the online catalogue and found that the subject under which the booklet is now catalogued is  ‘Jewish Meditations’. Then, a week or so later, I did some further research into the author‘s address in Oxford. His business had been at 12 and 13 St Aldate’s Street but from the 1880s he was travelling - his wife, as well as the last of his six children, both died in Bath in the late 1880s.  At the 1891 Census he was lodging with a son in Bletchingdon village, but in that Census his daughter, Fyla, was at 80 St Aldate’s Street, the address on his pamphlet.  In an Oxford Directory of 1891 M.E. Slapoffski was also shown as living at 80 St Aldate’s Street but he was absent from there in subsequent directories. In 1895 he was living in the East End of London, two years later in Southmoor Road, Oxford, and then in Birmingham. At the 1901 Census he and Fyla were living in Northampton. So the assumed date of publication, c.1900, at 80 St Aldate’s Street was undoubtedly late and wrong. I sent an e-mail to the Bodleian, suggesting that ‘c.1900’ might be replaced by ‘c.1891’ as the date of publication. And this was done, in the Bodleian catalogue, most promptly, as I was informed by return of e-mail.


See Slapoffski in Oxford for second article on M. E. Slapoffski

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