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Isaac Bernard: Prague Jew, jeweller, mintmaster and spy

Peter Barber


IN his 'Catalogus Brevior' (1709-24), the text of which now constitutes the first part of the existing Catalogue of the Harleian Manuscripts, Robert Harley's librarian, Humfrey Wanley hesitantly - and ambiguously - recorded that a Hebrew cabbalistic work, now Harleian MS. 1204, was 'ut accepi, a quodam Isaaco Bernard, Judaeo Pragensi'. Presumably his source was Robert Harley himself. Like Wanley, Harley was no Hebrew scholar and may have wrongly assumed that the manuscript had been written as well as presented to him by Isaac Bernard. It was probably because of this misunderstanding that Cyril Wright omitted Bernard and Harleian MS. 1204 from his magisterial Fontes Harleiani. For misunderstanding it was. In his catalogue of Hebrew manuscripts Margoliouth identified the manuscript as being in a sixteenth century Italian rabbinic hand, while letters and papers held by the British Library among the Portland, Blenheim and Sloane manuscripts and among its state papers show that in 1706-8 Harley came into repeated contact with 'Isaac Bernard, Jeweller, a Jew of Prague'.

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