The Brandeis Family and Madison Indiana Part Two


In an earlier post I discussed materials I had found in the Jefferson County Historical Society relating to Louis D. Brandeis’ uncle and and his family’s residence in Madison Indiana. I ran out of room before I could discuss what was for me the big find. Back in the 1930’s, a journalist named Charles E. Heberhart produced a weekly local history column for the Madison Courier called They Say and Do in the Country. The Historical Society reproduced these columns in a number of large notebooks and have them out for ready reference. I found a number of columns that dealt with Brandeis in one way or another but most of them just reprinted information that I had already gotten from other sources. One column, however, was a treasure trove of new information.

There lived in Madison at the time of the Brandeis’ arrival, a young man by the name of John Lyle King. (Heberhart calls him Henry Lyle King for some reason.) King was a lawyer who later became a member of the Indiana House of Representatives before moving to Chicago in 1860 and becoming City Attorney there. Mr. King was also a prodigious diary writer, having produced 11 volumes during his lifetime. The volumes have never been published, which is a shame because they sound like a great read. Someone named William W. Brewer, Jr. has posted excerpts online and they paint a fascinating picture of what life in Madison during the 1840’s must have been like. In them, Mr. King comes across as a bored young intellectual, given to feuding with his friends and falling head over heels with every woman he meets, including at one point a 14 year old passing through town on her way to Jamaica.

In 1849, when Brandeis’ father Adolph came to Madison, looking for a place for all the Brandeises, Dembitzes and Wehles to live, he immediately made the acquaintance of John Lyle King, who remained a loyal friend of the families the whole time they lived in town. And of course he wrote about them in his diaries. I had seen a quote or two from the King diaries in various Brandeis biographies, but Heberhart excerpts what seems to be all references to the Brandeises in his column. There are not any earth shattering revelations but the anecdotes are interesting and give a good sense of what life in a small Indiana town must have been like for these cosmopolitan and newly arrived Bohemians. I cannot reproduce all the entries here, but I will show what I think are the best ones.

April 14, 1849: Brandeis, my Bohemian acquaintance, was in this afternoon, and talked to me about himself and his friends who are coming to the United States. He is betrothed to a maiden who is sister to the boy he wishes to have read law in our offices…He presents her as accomplished, but not beautiful. He says he wishes I understood German so he could read me her letters. She is 19, and he is 21. Her father is a physician and emigrates, too. His brother-in-law speaks seven languages. The boy has been reading Roman law in Prague, speaks and writes Latin, and works logarithms in his head.

[Note: this “boy” would be Lewis Dembitz, Brandeis’ uncle and the man who would inspire him to become a lawyer.]

June 1, 1849: My acquaintance Brandeis has been in again. He left this evening, having at last succeeded in renting a house to which the families will be brought from Cincinnati where they came six weeks ago from Austria. Two of the gentlemen of the family were him and are gentlemen, intelligent, shrewd looking ones. I shall be glad when they come. They will be of some advantage to me, both in the way of company and probably of business. They talk of the young man reading law with us. [Note: Dembitz ended up staying in Cincinnati.]

Monday, June 11, 1849: Wrote an advertisement for Dr. [Samuel] Brandeis for the Courier. I think him an accomplished physician for one his age. They both seem to have taken quite a liking to me. They invited me to make myself familiar in their families.

Wednesday, June 20, 1849: The Brandeis and Wehle crowd are domiciled next door to the Moore houses. I hoped to get a glimpse of some of the ladies, but the twilight shades deepened around too much into dimness to give me a good sight.

June 29, 1849: Adolph Brandeis was in this morning and talked to me about the ladies of their families. He says the doctor’s intended is the handsomest of the three girls, but that his betrothed is the cleverest and the best educated. She was born in Poland, mixed with the aristocracy, was educated in Prussia, has traveled much, and is proficient on the piano. They are now at work in the kitchen as they cannot obtain servants. In Bohemia, they had eight.

Thursday, July 5, 1849: Abels, one of the Bohemians, was in this afternoon and gave me an account of the Hungarian troubles, which correspond with the account in Blackwood. By the way, Dr. Brandeis made a fair pun the other day. I informed him I was the son of temperance. He replied, “You can drink nothing, but I hope you won’t repudiate Brandeis.”

Friday, July 13, 1849: Mr. Wehle was in this morning. Nothing worth noting except at twilight, sitting at Dr. Brandeis’ door, Adolph walked up with two of the ladies on his arm. Miss Dembitz and Miss Wehle, to whom I was introduced, and had a light broken speech with them for a minute or two. They dress in a very ordinary way, but otherwise must be accomplished ladies. I shall meet them soon at the house.

Tuesday, July 24, 1849: At Helen Corey’s this evening. I invited Helen to call with me on the Bohemians. Helen and I started to Wehle’s home. At the door, the elder Wehle received us. He was embarrassed and taken by surprise, and it looked as if we were not to be invited in. Adolph, inquired for, was out. I asked if we could see the ladies. Was told that they were in their chamber. But while talking, Miss Dembitz made her appearance at the door. Introductions followed. Then in. The younger Wehle, who is most au fait in social matters, was not then in, but made his appearance before we left. The ladies, considerably at ease, took interest in our conversation, and tete-teted with as much spirit as their meager English would allow. We had Miss Caroline Wehle, Miss Frederique Dembitz, and Miss Ida Weiner (governess) in the room. Miss Frederique is inclined to embonpoint, has a dark complexion, intelligent physiognomy, and substantial parts of a character, and is said to be finely educated. Caroline Wehle is smaller, younger, is of a type of gaiety, handsome, animated, and probably a little coquettish. She is the one I would fall in love with, and I should conjecture much more capable of inspiring the tender than Miss Frederique. She is the doctor’s betrothed…It amuses me and entertains me to hear the ladies talk. They are a little shy to use our speech too. Their coyness and diffidence keeps the imagination active enough to render them decidedly interesting. Helen spoke in French to them, and they were so agreeably surprised to hear a language they understood that their gratification spontaneously revealed itself in joyous exclamations, and they followed us to the gate with a new-born fervor expressing the happiness they would have in seeing her again. Helen was favorable impressed and invited them to see her and use her piano until their own arrived. [Note: among the possession the families brought with them from Europe were two (!) grand pianos, but apparently they had not arrived in Madison yet.]

Friday, September 21, 1849: Sallie Gale and I called on Dr. and Adolph Brandeis and their ladies. They live upstairs in Dr. Watts’ on Main Cross, above the storeroom. Their parlor is small but comfortably furnished, and has several daguerreotypes and portraits of their German friends hanging on the walls. They were glad to see us. They speak English much better than when I first knew them. They seem much devoted to one another, and make quite a happy group. The ladies were dressed in better taste than usual. We left early, 9 o’clock. They were disposed to complain of me for neglecting to see them for so long. Frederique has a copy of Byron which she is fond of, and we had a literary conversation.

October 5, 1849: My friend, James Morton, Dr. Brandeis, and Mr. Maurice Wehle went into court with me and filed their declaration of intention to become citizens. When asked by me if Francis Joseph was present emperor of Austria, Mr. Wehle replied, “Yes, damn him! I do abjure him!” Wehle was an insurrectionist in the tumult in Prague last year, and was a captain of insurgentsm who were all at least reduced to subjection of Wendis Chgratz and the imperial rule entirely reestablished. I was a while in Dr. Brandeis’ parlor with his and Adolph’s wives and Wehle. The ladies asked me if I would call with them on Miss Corey. I told them my intercourse was suspended there now, but if it were resumed, I would inform them and accompany them.

There is one more entry from October 16 about Maurice Wehle reprinted and then the column stops. Seeing as how the Brandeises didn’t move to Louisville until 1851, there must have been more diary entries about them. (In fact, Alpheus Mason published a couple more in A Free Man’s Life.) Maybe one day I will take a road trip to the Indiana Historical Society and see the diaries for myself.


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