David E. de Lara

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David Etienne de Lara was a scholar and language teacher present at the meeting that led to the founding of the Theosophical Society on September 8, 1875.

Many thanks to Joma Sipe and Marc Demarest for their excellent research related to David E. de Lara, and thanks also to John Patrick Deveney and Boaz Huss for their contributions. Locating biographical details about this family has been complicated by the existence of other David de Laras married to other wives named Sarah in both England and the United States.

Personal life

David Etienne de Lara was born in 1796 in Amsterdam to a Jewish family of Portuguese descent. His family were probably among of the Sephardic Jews in the Netherlands who referred to themselves as "Hebrews of the Portuguese Nation," distinguishing their community from the Ashkenazi Jews of eastern Europe.[1] He was educated an an unspecified university.[2]

During the 1820s he seems to have traveled between the Netherlands and London, working as a language teacher.[3] On December 8, 1828, he married Sarah Elizabeth Crawcour (1802-1872), a Jew of Polish Ashkenazi descent, in a Church of England ceremony.[4] They had two sons, Etienne and Isaac, and three daughters, Flora, Emma, and Victoria.[5][6] Despite the Saint James marriage service, the de Lara family were actively engaged in the Jewish community, and all the daughters married Jews.

To support his family, de Lara taught foreign languages and wrote books of instruction. They lived in London, Manchester, and Liverpool, according to demand for language teaching. Sometime around 1850-1855, the family emigrated from London to New York City. In 1851, Sarah and her daughters remained in London, while census records lack any mention of David and his sons, who may have already moved.[7] During the New York years, Mr. de Lara continued his language work.

As of 1870, Mr. de Lara was living in Manhattan with his daughter Victoria and her family, and had a personal wealth of $50,000.[8] He died on June 26, 1879 in Manhattan of "senectus" (old age) and was buried in Ozone Park, Queens, New York.[9][10][11]

1925 book title page
Announcement at French's Academy, Boston


Mr. de Lara had a very active career in teaching foreign languages, writing, and lecturing, from the 1830s until his death in 1879.

In addition to his language work, he was an accountant and merchant.[12][13] He seems to have been in partnership with Henry Crawcour (probably his wife's older brother) as stationers at 21 Mount Street, Whitechapel in the 1830s.[14]

Language work

He taught French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, and German, offering lectures, correspondence courses, and private instruction in his home.[15][16][17] His instructional approach was innovative at the time, with the object of making students proficient in the aspects of the language that they would be able to use immediately in commercial enterprises.[18][19] Many of his students were in Liverpool, a major port for trade with Spain and Portugal, and he gave courses at the Royal Academy, the Academy of Literature and Science, and in evening schools.[20][21]

Mr. de Lara has received a University education: his whole life has been devoted to literary pursuits; and though he does not lay claim to the invention of any new system, he can with confidence assert that the method pursued by him, founded on many years' experience as a Teacher, is decidedly superior to any laid before the public... Mr. de Lara can refer not only the Ladies and Gentlemen, Clergymen, and Heads of Academies, and Ladies' Seminaries of the highest respectability, but to the compositions of his Pupils, which are to be seen at his house, 3, Trafalger-street, Russel-street.[22]

He also taught in London and in Manchester. After moving to the United States, de Lara taught mostly in New York, but went wherever he found demand, such as French's Academy in Boston.

Writing for New Era

De Lara was associated with John Storer Cobb, another Theosophical Society founder and editor of the journal New Era.

In June 1873 appeared the first part of a fifteen-part series by “Lara” on “Defence of our National System of Education against the Attacks of the Catholic Press” — a vigorous attack on admitting religion, especially Catholicism, into the public schools, with learned historical digressions on the evil consequences of Catholic political thought. At the conclusion of this diatribe, “Lara,” who now appears by his full name of D.E. de Lara, took up the cudgels again in an eight-part series, beginning in the issue for September 1874, on “Freemasonry, Judaism, and Christianity.” From this and his other contributions we can glean a bit more about the mysterious man whose name appears among those attending the formative meeting of the T.S. on September 8, 1875, and who read a paper before the group on the 18th. David de Lara was first of all quite old, since he mentions a book he had seen in Spain in 1820 or 1821, and he was a Portuguese Jew, a Sephardi.[23]

In a review of a lecture given by de Lara on Pope Sixtus V before the Liberal Club in July 1875, the editor says of him:

Mr. de Lara, who is well-known, at any rate, to the readers of the New Era, through his writings upon the school question and other subjects, is a gentleman who has for a period of nearly half a century been engaged with his pen in enriching English literature, though chiefly under a nom de plume, in consequence of a too great modesty, which, being a part of his nature, cannot be eradicated. The history of European nations he has made a special study, and is eminently qualified to speak to us upon any question relating to the social or political condition of those countries.[24]

Later that year:

In October 1875, the New Era, probably with Cobb at its helm, took up Theosophy and its personae in a big way. It gave a long review of Olcott’s People from the Other World, recommending it as “well written” and filled with "a desire to arrive at the truth, at whatever cost."[25][26]

Lecture announcement, 1875


Mr. de Lara was in demand as a lecturer on a wide range of topics. At the Manchester Mechanics' Institute, he gave a series of four lectures on the dramatic literature of France, Germany, Spain, and Italy.[27] He gave similar lectures at the Liverpool Literary, Scientific, & Commercial Institution.[28]

After moving to the United States, he continued lecturing. In Boston he gave a series of talks at Tremont Temple [Baptist church] on "the Social, Moral and Political Condition of Russia." The advertisement said that he had "recently returned from St. Petersburg, after a residence of two years.[29] Not all of his lectures were on serious subjects. In 1875 he gave a "satirico-humorous" talk called "Nature and Art, or Love and Marriage" at the synogogue on Lexington Avenue in New York. He was delivering it for the third time, by request.[30]

Theosophical Society involvement

On September 8, 1875, he was present, along with his friend John Storer Cobb, at the meeting when Col. Henry S. Olcott proposed formation of a society "for the study and elucidation of Occultism, the Cabbala, etc." and Mr. de Lara handed in his name to the newly-appointed secretary, William Quan Judge, to be one of the founding members. He may not have been present at all the subsequent meetings. Historian Josephine Ransom described him as:

A learned old gentleman of Portuguese-Hebrew extraction. H. P. B. and H. S. O. had great affection for him. He seems to have remained a member till he died.[31]

Involvement with Freemasonry

A modern historian, Boaz Huss, described de Lara as "an Anglo-Jewish scholar and Freemason," but no specific evidence of the masonic connection can be cited at this time.[32] in 1874 de Lara did discuss freemasonry in a lecture, "Freemasonry, Judaism and Christianity: Do they harmonize or are they antagonistic?" at Cooper Institute in New York.[33]


De Lara wrote for New Era, a reform Jewish periodical, and according to that journal he wrote "chiefly under a nom de plume" and specialized in the "history of European nations." [34]

During his early years in England, he began writing books for students of foreign languages. They were intended to be especially useful to people engaged in commerce.

  • A Key to the Portuguese Language. Boosey & Sons, 1925. It included vocabulary, expressions, and grammar, and was regularly advertised in newspapers until 1930.[35][36]
  • A Key to the Spanish Language.
  • A Short and Plain Grammar of the Spanish Language.
  • Commercial Tables.

Additional resources

  • Deveney, John Patrick, "D.E. de Lara, John Storer Cobb, and The New Era" Theosophical History 15 no.4 (October, 2011): 27-33. The Theosophical History website is here.
  • Huss, Boaz, "In Search of the Jewish Theosophists" The Newsletter of the Friends of the Theosophical Archives FOTA no. 6, Spring-Summer 2016. The issue, including the printed version of the article (with pictures), can be downloaded here.
  • "D. E. de Lara (Theosophical Society)" family tree in Ancestry.com, compiled by Marc Demarest. Large collection of newspaper clippings.


  1. See Miriam Bodian, Hebrews of the Portuguese Nation: Conversos and Community in Early Modern Amsterdam (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997), as mentioned in the Wikipedia article Sephardic Jews in the Netherlands.
  2. "On the Spanish Language" Liverpool Mercury (September 16, 1831): 1-2.
  3. David Etienne de Lara in England, Alien Arrivals, 1810-1811, 1826-1869. Arrival in London from Rotterdam on November 9, 1926.
  4. David deLara in London, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1754-1938. From church register for Saint James, Paddington.
  5. 1841 England Census.
  6. 1855 New York, U.S., State Census.
  7. Sarah de Lara in 1851 England Census.
  8. 1870 United States Federal Census.
  9. 1880 New York, U.S., U.S. Census Mortality Schedules, 1850-1880.
  10. "Died" New York Herald no. 15651 (June 29, 1879(: 11.
  11. David Etienne De Lara in U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current.
  12. 1841 England Census.
  13. 1870 United States Federal Census.
  14. The London Gazette (April 13, 1838).
  15. Advertisement in Liverpool Mercury (November 19, 1830): 1.
  16. Advertisement in Liverpool Mercury (April 1, 1831):1.
  17. Liverpool Mercury (July 12, 1933): 1.
  18. "On the Spanish Language" Liverpool Mercury (September 16, 1831): 1-2.
  19. Liverpool Mercury (October 16, 1835): 6.
  20. "Languages" Liverpool Mercury (April 1, 1831): 1.
  21. "Evening Schools" Liverpool Mercury (June 29, 1838): 2.
  22. "On the Spanish Language" Liverpool Mercury (September 16, 1831): 1-2.
  23. John Patrick Deveney, "D.E. de Lara, John Storer Cobb, and The New Era" Theosophical History 15 no.4 (October, 2011): 29.
  24. Editor, New Era 5 no. 9 (September 1875): 597.
  25. "Literary Notices" New Era 5 no.10 (October 1875): 658-69.
  26. John Patrick Deveney, "D.E. de Lara, John Storer Cobb, and The New Era" Theosophical History 15 no.4 (October, 2011): 29.
  27. Manchester Courier (October 20, 1838): 2.
  28. H. T. Atkinson, "Liverpool Literary, Scientific, & Commercial Institution" Liverpool Mercury (June 12, 1835): 1.
  29. "Russia and Turkey - Tremont Temple" Daily Atlas [Boston] (December 13, 1853): 2.
  30. "The Lecture Season" New York Herald (November 18, 1875): 9.
  31. Josephine Ransom, A Short History of The Theosophical Society (Adyar, Madras, India: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1938), 112.
  32. Boaz Huss, "In Search of the Jewish Theosophists" The Newsletter of the Friends of the Theosophical Archives FOTA no. 6, Spring-Summer 2016. The issue, including the printed version of the article (with pictures), can be downloaded here.
  33. "The Lecture Season" New York Herald (July 2, 1874): 12.
  34. Editor, New Era 5 no. 9 (September 1875): 597.
  35. Advertisement in Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser (January 19, 1825): 1.
  36. Advertisement in The Times (London). February 4, 1829.