Alphone de Lamartine, who knew Joseph de Maistre, described him, after he was dead, as being “large [d’une grande taille,], handsome and male of form and face.” Madame Swetchine, who also knew de Maistre, was taken aback by those lines: “M. de Lamartine says that he saw a lot of M. de Maistre. The number of those meetings makes it all the more surprising that his description of the man was misleading to such a degree. Not one touch was precise or faithful to the original. Count de Maistre was of middling size, and his features were irregular. There was nothing incisive in his eye, to which his short sightedness lent something lost in his gaze. This irregular, and not very brilliant face nevertheless had a majestic radiance.”
The witnesses summoned by the historians are all fed their lines by someone, usually the insatiable self, the vulgarian whose dirty fingers are even in our hot tears. Leaving fingerprints. Lamartine is the biggest goose of French literature, with his tedious lyrics and his lukewarm liberal politics. He is the very type of the sots from whom Baudelaire, later, begged in vain for a break to keep him from slipping into the abyss of want and madness. Madame Swetchine, bless her soul, did not reckon that there was a stye in Lamartine’s eye – his ego. The problem with history is that it is packed with Lamartines. The process is fucked, the jury is packed, the judge is limited by his caseload, his languages, his headache, his faulty hardons.
Any good carpenter knows a rotten two by four. Anyone with a nose for it knows a rotten fact. But we have to build with available materials.
Scholem’s picture of Jacob Frank is takes the picture of Frank that was promoted by, among others, Heinrich Graetz, who wrote a popular history of the Jews in the 1880s. Graetz even devoted a whole book to Frankism. In his history, Graetz wrote that “Jankiev Lejbovicz (that is, Jacob son of Leb) of Galicia, was one of the worst, most subtle, and most deceitful rascals of the eighteenth century.”
Graetz’s sketch is of a monster, a man who “boasted of …how he had duped his own father.” Yet Graetz’s sketch contains several of those rotten facts – for instance, Graetz ignores Frank’s father’s own adherence to the Sabbatain messianic cult. Graetz portrays Frank as a sort of Figaro or Sganarelle, alert for the scam, “traveling in Turkey in the service of a Jewish gentleman” . Others however have connected the Turkish travel with the study of the Kaballah, particularly the Zohar, which seems to have tied Frank to the Salonika community. In any case, much of this material is simply transmitted from one denunciation to another.
In 1967, Oskar K. Rabinowicz published an article on Frank in the Jewish Quarterly Review that reported his discovery of documents passed between Habsburg officials between Brno and Vienna, the most important of which was the testimony of a penitenti, a former Frankist.
Frank, with the great pomp that seemed to attend all of his arrivals, entered Brno, the capital of Moravia, with a train of 17 people in 1773. He immediately informed the authorities of his whereabouts, and presented three passports. He went to the Blauer Loewe, then took up quarters in the home of “freeman Pitsch.”
The entourage alarmed Brno officials. His story did too. He told them he “hailed from Smyrna”, with which he was connected on matters of business. In an interview with the police, he claimed to own grazing land in Poland and be a trader in livestock.
“Von Zollern reports further in the same document that his additional enquiries showed that Frank’s and his people’s behavior was beyond reproach, that they actually lived off his means, and that he had not contracted any debts.”
A year went by, and then the Brno officials received word from Vienna that this Frank had been accused of claiming to be the anti-Christ. He had been jailed in Czestochowa, and released in 1770.
Why the sudden interest? According to Rabinowicz, the Viennese officials were responding to a complaint lodged by Jacob Galinsky, a former follower. Galinsky’s immediate concern was that Frank owed him 1000 ducats. But Galinsky was more concerned that Frank was a devil. Concerned enough that he had sent letters to Marie Theresa, and that he sent documents to the Brno officials. According to Galinsky, Jacob Frank was born in Karlupke ‘as the son of a Jewish teacher who, having been found to be an adherent of Sabbatai Zevi, had lost his job and settled with his family in Wallachia”. This testimony is interesting in itself, in that there is another story about Frank’s heritage which has spread in the histories, in which it is claimed that Frank’s father was an innkeeper. There is obviously a Lamartine in our chain of evidence. However, as Galinsky is convinced that Frank is a very evil man, I’d give him some credit – besides which, he is a contemporary witness.
Galinsky, according to his own account, accepted Frank’s revelation of himself as Sabbatai Zevi – the shapeshifter messiah, who is now Islamic, now Christian, but in actuality remains hidden behind public ceremonies – like the Duke of Vienna in Measure for Measure, he is a Lord of Dark Corners.
It was in Warsaw that Galinsky started to become alienated from Frank. Frank had declared that none of his followers would die – much as Jesus did in the Gospels – and some did die. Death, Frank claimed, only showed that these followers had lacked faith. When complaints were made and Frank was sent to the jail/monastery in Czestochowa, Galinsky went with him. Then the second blow against Galinsky’s faith occurred – Frank’s wife died. After she died, “Frank began preaching immoral behavior, even acts against human nature. Galinsky became his open enemy, and returned to his own wife and child in Warsaw. His wife rejoined Frank in 1772, and had lived since then with Frank in Brno. Yet, while separated from Galinsky she nevertheless informed him about a Frankist plot to kill him and the other opponents of Frank.”
Finally, this is how Frank lived in Brno, according to Galinsky: all his servants were baptized Jews only. Every two weeks men and women arrived in Brno from all over the land, and brought Frank presents. These adherents wre so devoted to him that they kissed his feet, remained a few days near him, and then returned home.”
This report may seem damning, especially since Galinsky claimed he was even eager to confront Frank, should it be necessary. But, as Rabinowicz remarks, “an air of enlightenment” accompanied Joseph II’s accession to the throne, and the Vienna bureaucracy was now indifferent to sectarian disputes. They simply advised Zollner to keep a good eye on Frank.
Over the past three months, I’ve been dancing in many threads – that of suicide, that of free love, that of universal history. This thread is on the linki between libertinism and messianism.