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From the Edinburgh Review. contradictory opinions still prevail concerning 1. The Right Honorable Benjamin Disraeli, him. There are persons, we hear, who con
M. P. A Critical Biography. By ceive him to be the most profound of modern
GEORGE HENRY FRANCIS. London : 1852. statesmen; there are others, we know, who 2. Lord George Bentinck. A Political Biog- contemptuously deny him a title to rank
raphy. By B. DISRAELI, Member of amongst statesmen at all. Some of his adParliament for the County of Bucking- mirers declare him to be an orator in the ham, Fifth edition - revised. Lon; highest sense of the terın ; whilst his oppodon : 1852.
nents stoutly maintain that he is at best no 3. Venetia. By B. DISRAELI. A new edition. better than a showy and shallow rhetorician. London : 1853.
Favorable critics dwell upon the alleged wit,
spirit, cleverness, graphic power, and frequent ABOUT twenty years since a prize was brilliancy of his writings; whilst those of proposed, in an Italian university, for the the severer order profess to be more struck by best essay on the following subject : “ What their meretricious glitter, overwhelming preindividual since the beginning of the world sumption, open disregard of principle, innate has most occupied the thoughts of mankind ?” vulgarity of conception, and utter absence The palm was awarded to the essayist who of earnestness and truth. The very section maintained the superior claims of Napoleon to of the aristocracy which has always been the this world-wide description of notoriety ; but last to recognize the claims of genius, points, the decision was far from commanding uni- or very recently did point, to his elevation as versal assent. If, however, a prize were an irrefragable proof of the excellence of our offered at Oxford or Cambridge for a disserta- institutions ; yet the majority of the cultition on the analogous but more limited ques- vated classes, whose liberal appreciation of tion - "What individual from February, merit for its own sake has been time imme1852, to January, 1853, has most occupied the morial exhibited in a thousand ways, were pens, tongues, and ears of Englishmen?". contemporaneously giving vent to a sentiment the answer would be given by acclamation. not much unlike that embodied in the wellThe Right Honorable Benjamin Disraeli, late known couplet Chancellor of the Exchequer, is indisputably
The thing we know is neither rich nor rare, the man. His appointment to this post was But wonder how the devil it got there. one of the niost startling domestic events that has occurred in our time. People seemed That, indeed, is the essential question and never tired of-talking and speculating, on it. real problem. How did he get where we with its recondite causes and its problemati- recently gazed upon him with almost as much cal results. He at once became an ines- wonder, though with not exactly the same haustible topic of animated discussion in vague feeling of apprehension, as that with society. His portrait was painted by one which we contemplated the astounding rise fashionable artist; his bust was taken in of the new Emperor of the French? How marble, ære perennius, by another ; what were did a gentleman of Jewish extraction, whose called likenesses of him appeared in illustrated previous career was inextricably associated newspapers by the dozen ; and, above all, he with reminiscences very little calculated to was placed in Madame Tussaud's repository inspire esteem or confidence, manage to be
that British Valhalla in which it is diffi- come finance-minister of the greatest commercult for a civilian to gain a niche without cial country, and official leader of the gravest, being hanged. He glittered in the political wisest, and most important representative horizon as a phenomenon of the first magni- assembly, in the world? Did he succeed by tude ; and every glass was turned upon him addressing himself to the good or to the bad the more eagerly, because it was impossible feelings of his countrymen?— to their pasto discover, and hazardous to predicate, sions and prejudices, or to their reason and whether he would turn out a planet, a fixed good sense? In other words, did he win his star, a comet, or a mere vapory exhalation, position by the fair exercise of talent and or will-o'-the-wisp, raised by an overheated industry, or did he steal a march on his comatmosphere from a rank and unwholesome soil. petitors, and climb 'to temporary power upon
To lay aside metaphor – Mr. Disraeli was the shoulders of a well-dressed and wealthy, pretty generally regarded as an intellectual, but turbulent, ill-informed, and irritated, set inoral, social, and parliamentary anomaly; of agitators, who were marked by many of His career has been altogether an exceptional the most objectionable characteristics of a
None but himself can be his parallel; mob? and as all traditional, prescriptive, and
We shall endeavor to answer these quesfamiliar tests of character are obviously out tions by an impartial review and analysis of of place when applied to that of the “suc- the Right Honorable Gentleman's career;. as cessor of Hampden,” we are by no means illustrated by his writings and speeches. surprised to find that the most varying and taking Mr. George Henry Francis as our
assistant and occasional guide ; for his wish for a better recommendation than an “ Critical Biography," although frequently honored name. In point of hereditary forbetraying an undue partiality for his hero, tune, he was better off than Burke, Sheridan, presents a tolerably correct outline of those or Canning; and, with regard to his appaevents of Mr. Disraeli's life with which we rently most serious stumbling-stock, his have now to deal. It will speedily be seen, Jewish extraction, we are by no means sure as we proceed, that we are actuated by no that, under his adroit and spirited manageparty views or motives, but that our main ment, it was not, at one period, actually object is to rectify the scale by which our transformed into a stepping-stone. public men are to be judged. Granting that When “ Pelham" is asked whether illegitno widespread or lasting injury may result imate birth will prevent a person from being from an insulated example of unmerited pro- a perfect gentleman, he makes answer, that motion to the highest honors of the State it will not, if the individual feels no consciousthe case assumes a much more serious aspect ness of the stain, for then it will in no respect when the essential rules of political morality impair that freedom and independence of are systematically tampered with, in the hope bearing which are essential to the character. of making them square with conduct which, To apply this refined remark to the case so long as their authority remains unim- before us — we conceive that if an Englishman paired, must be held emphatically wrong. of the Jewish race puts a bold and honest We are well aware of the delicacy and diffi- face on the matter, his contemporaries will culty of the task ; but we have at least one soon cease to think about it, and that it will advantage — that, so long as we confine our speedily becoine stingless and inoperative as selves to what bears on his public career, we a taunt. So long as Mr. Disraeli was the need not be overscrupulous in discussing the fearless and uncompromising champion of antecedents of a man who has dealt more his oppressed brethren, he carried with him largely and profitably in personality than any the cordial sympathy of every generous heart writer or speaker of our day.
and the eager concurrence of every enlightened According to the “Critical Biography,' "mind. He participated in the new dignity " the future orator and statesman was born which he conferred on their cause. Never in the year 1806," and according to Dodd 's was there a more striking confirmation of the Parliamentary Companion, in 1805. He was maxim that “ honesty is the best policy;" for the first-born of Isaac Disraeli, the eminent it was not until he lowered his tone, and began author of “ Curiosities of Literature ;" a to capitulate on his own account, that his book which, despite of the inaccuracies de- vulnerable side was laid bare. From the time tected by Mr. Corney and others, has been when he assumed the lead of a party whose translated into every modern language that watchword is bigotry, and who stand pledged boasts a literature, and must be deemed an to retain the Jews in their present state of indispensable part of every good library. civic inferiority, his Caucasian descent became Disraeli the Elder, as he was affectedly desig- again the bar sinister of his political shield; nated by the son, in the hope of benefiting but it is his own fault if he selects for his by the relected lustre of the paternal fame, constant associates the hereditary oppressors was an excellent specimen of the old-fashioned of his race, and does all that in him lies to man of letters - amiable, kind-hearted, de- fan the smouldering embers of intolerance voted to his books, and little conversant with into a flame. Did he really suppose that he the habits or topics of the gay and bustling would be allowed to revive the No Popery cry, circles of the metropolis. His claim to an or to call for fresh penal enactments in favor honorable post in the Republic of Letters was of our “ Protestant Constitution," without unimpeached and is certainly unimpeachable. proroking a telling retort? If so, he reckoned What, then, do the admirers and followers without his host; and the mode in which one of Mr. B. Disraeli mean by asserting that, of his late colleagues alluded to the topic under far from being aided by birth and connexion discussion, miglit have served as a warning to in bis social and political aspirations, he had Mr. Disraeli to get out of their company as extraordinary disadvantages in this respect to fast as possible. Sir John Trollope told his surmount? We know perfectly well that a constituents, at his reëlection for South strong prejudice was entertained against him Lincolnshire, in March last, that the finanwhen he first entered the House of Commons;cial concerns of the country were safe in the but this was the natural result of those pas- guardianship of “ a gentleman, undoubtedly sages in his life which he now finds it con- of ancient blood but eastern origin." Beginvenient to term his “ wild oats.” If he could ning with a compliment, the Right Honorable have dissociated himself from these, and have Baronet unconsciously ended with a sneer. moderated his pretensions for an interval, he It is fortunate, therefore, that the bape is would have had no reason to complain of his coupled with the antidote ; " for sufferance reception ; and, to the best of our observa- is the badge of all our tribe." Centuries of tion, no debutant, in any walk of life, need oppression have endowed the Jewish race
with corresponding habits of endurance. Mr. | of books, under this lax apprenticeship, may Disraeli has frequently been subjected to not have qualified him better for working mortifications and disappointments which out his peculiar destiny than the same numwould have driven a more sensitive man to ber of years spent, and haply trifled away, on of self-destruction. Yet neither the banks of the Isis or the Cam. the very verge Every insult nor annoyance seemed to make the man," says Gibbon, "who rises above the smallest impression on that imperturbable common level has received two educations, temper and impassive brow. So long as he the first from his teachers the second, more could gain anything by being cool, he was personal and important, from himself." That cool; and it was only on rare occasions, the second was not omitted in Mr. Disraeli's when the game was up or played out, that he case, he gave ample and speedy evidence. was ever hurried into the display of ill-temper He could hardly have arrived at legal years or irritability. That extraordinary faculty of of discretion, when he set on foot the earliest mastering his emotions and biding his time, of his ambitious projects; for although we by dint of which he has so often grasped For- are not prepared to specify the precise share tune by the forelock, may be clearly traced he had in getting up or editing the " Repreto his eastern origin," and can hardly be sentative" newspaper, in January, 1826, we computed as the worst or most profitless part have the strongest direct proof that he was of that "damnosa hereditas" which de- one of the responsible parents of the scheme. scended to him with his blood. The late John Murray, of Albemarle Streetthe most enterprising and liberal-minded of bibliopoles who lost more than 20,000l. by the undertaking, was wont to declare to his dying day that he was led into hazarding this large sum by the gorgeous pictures of anticipated profit and influence drawn by the imaginative genius of the precocious ex-clerk. The paper never recovered from the effects of an article beginning-"As we were sitting in our opera box"-and it was given up after six inonths' trial, during which half a dozen or more editors were successively employed.*
In the course of the same year, 1826, Mr. Disraeli, who has a knack of turning failures to account, electrified the novel-reading public by "Vivian Grey," the plot of which was understood to be founded on the getting up of the " Representative" and on the incidental intrigues-literary, social, and political. We remember seeing a Key, in which the Marquess of Carabas was declared to be neither more nor less than John Murray - Cleveland, an eminent author and editor, still living - and Mrs. Felix Lorraine, a now forgotten blue-stocking. The suggested analogies are faint, and the points of similarity mostly fanciful, but the novel itself will always remain an object of interest to the metaphysical inquirer as containing the germ, rude outline, and incomplete conception of the career which the author was even then meditating, and in great measure has since contrived to run. We request particular attention to the following passages :
It is rather strange, considering the circumstances and literary position of his father, that Mr. Disraeli did not receive what is called a regular education. He was brought up at a private school, or academy, in the classic shades of Hampstead or Highgate; and at the age when young men commonly commence residence at a University, he was articled to a highly respectable firm of solicitors in the city. In his adolescence," says Mr. Francis, he was subjected to the severe corrective of a city life. The future Chancellor of the Exchequer spent in the hard service of a lawyer's office much of the time he would rather have devoted to the Muses. We do not consider ourselves called upon to enter into mere gossiping details, however interesting, of this period of Mr. Disraeli's career. His native genius soon broke through these trammels." The plain matter of fact is, that these trammels were neither severe nor degrading, although Mr. Francis' language would justify an inference that they were both. An articled clerk's ordinary mode of passing his time is thus described by Cowper in a letter to Lady Hesketh :- "I did actually live three years with Mr. Chapman, a solicitor, - that is to say, I slept three years in his house; but I lived, that is to say, I spent my days, in Southampton Row, as you very well remember. There was I and the future Lord Chancellor (Thurlow) constantly employed from morning to night, in giggling and making giggle, instead of studying the law. O fie, cousin! how could you do so?"
Mr. Disraeli was not the first by hundreds, and very far indeed from being the most distinguished, of the many notable personages who have verified the portrait of
Some youth his father's wishes doomed to cross,
"At this moment, how many a powerful noble wants only wit to be a minister; and what wants
* The first number appeared on the 26th January, and the last on the 28th July, 1826. After making every allowance for the subsequent improvement and raised standard of newspaper writing, we are obliged to own that, the " Representative" richly merited its fate.
Vivian Grey to attain the same end? That no- | fected and flippant cynicism which clever youngble's influence. When two persons can so ma-sters mistake for philosophy, whilst the manterially assist each other, why are they not ner in which they are illustrated and carried brought together? Shall I, because my birth out by the dramatis persone of the romance is balks my fancy - shall I pass my life a moping very far indeed from redeeming them from the misanthrope in an old château? Supposing I am in contact with this magnifico, am I prepared? Now, let me probe my very soul. Does my cheek blanch? I have the mind for the conception;
and I can perform right skilfully upon the most splendid of musical instruments- the human voice- to make those conceptions beloved by others. There wants but one thing more courage, pure, perfect courage; and does Vivian Grey know fear?" He laughed an answer of bitterest derision. (Vol. i., p. 43.)
imputation of common-place. Vivian Grey,
It was a rule with Vivian Grey, never to advance any opinion as his own. He had been too deep a student of human nature, not to be aware that the opinions of a boy of twenty, however sound, and however correct, stand but a poor chance of being adopted by his elder, though feebler, fellow-creatures. In attaining any end, it was therefore his system always to advance his opinion as that of some eminent and considered personage; and when, under the sanction of this name, the opinion or advice was entertained and listened to, Vivian Grey had no fear that he could prove its correctness and its expediency. He possessed also the singular faculty of being able to improvise quotations; that is, he could unpremeditatedly clothe his conceptions in language characteristic of the style of any particular author; and Vivian Grey was reputed in the world as having the most astonishing memory that ever existed; for there was scarcely a subject of discussion in which he did not gain the victory, by the great names he enlisted on his side of the argument. His father was aware of the existence of this dangerous faculty, and had
often remonstrated with his son on the use of it. (Vol. i., p. 58.)
I will speak to you (Cleveland) with the frankness which you have merited, and to which I feel you are entitled. I am not the dupe of the Marquess of Carabas; I am not, I trust, the dupe, or tool, of any one whatever. Believe me, sir, there is that at work in England, which, taken at the tide, may lead on to fortune. I see this, sir-I, a young man, uncommitted in political
principles, unconnected in public life, feeling
some confidence, I confess, in my own abilities, but desirous of availing myself, at the same time, of the powers of others. Thus situated, I find myself working for the same end as my Lord Carabas, and twenty other men of similar calibre, mental and moral ;-and, sir, am I to play the hermit in the drama of life, because, perchance, my fellow-actors may be sometimes fools, and occasionally knaves? Oh! Mr. Cleveland, if the Marquess of Carabas has done you the ill service which Fame says he has, your sweetest revenge will be to make him your tool; your most perfect triumph, to rise to power by his influence. (Vol. i., p. 217.)
None of the maxims or reflections in this book are remarkable for refinement or depth. They lie on the surface, and read like the af
We noticed the best of his novels at the time of their appearance, and feel no inclination to revert to them. The best was " Contarini Fleming," and the worst the "Wondrous Tale of Alroy," in which extravagance and absurdity had reached the culminating point. Results have no longer the smallest connexion with causes, and performance bids audacious defiance to possibility. This work the literary public which was subsequently met with precisely the same reception from accorded to his maiden speech by the House of Commons. It was received with loud laughter, and the versatile writer forthwith betook himself to what he mistook for poetry. His "Revolutionary Epic" appeared in 1832, and was destined, as we learn from the Preface, to place him in the same category with Homer, Virgil, Dante, and Milton. But he fortunately added, "that if the decision of the public should be in the negative, then will he, without a pang, hurl his lyre to Limbo." He was as good as his word, so far as the continuation of the Epic was concerned. It fell still-born, and henceforth we find him playing a conspicuous, if not always a creditable or commendable, part on the political stage.
We need hardly suggest, that a pledge or profession must be interpreted in the sense in which the maker knew and meant it to be accepted. Yet it is deemed a sufficient answer to the charge of tergiversation brought against Mr. Disraeli, on the strength of his Wycombe and Marylebone candidature, to say that he was a tory-radical or radical-tory, and that he was consequently at full liberty to solicit the support of the Ultras of either side. Our own solution of his many Protean transformations is, that he had never any political principles or fixed convictions whatever. The world was all before him where to choose, and he chose what best suited his purpose at the moment. IIe alternately presented the black side of his shield to the Neri, and the white side to the Bianchi; or he was the prototype of the Frenchman who was seized in Paris, on the 24th February, 1848, with three cockades-white, red, and tricolor - -in his pocket; his avowed object being to assume from hour to hour the badge of the faction which seemed to be getAt the same time we ting the upper hand. are well aware that there may be such a creed, or mixture of creeds, as that which has been attributed to the Right Honorable Gentleman, in the hope of extricating him from his dilemma. Les extrêmes se touchent; and he is not the first who has speculated on governing mankind despotically, or in a high tory sense, by appealing to the numerical majority. It is what Napoleon the Third has done and is doing. It was what the Jacobites, or original "Country Party," hoped to do at, and for many years after, the accession of the House of Brunswick. The hypothesis on which class was not to be shaken in its attachment their hopes rested was that, since the middle to civil and religious liberty, the fit instru
As the "Representative" was a high tory| organ, we presume that Mr. Disraeli was professedly a high tory in 1826. Be this as it may, he started for High Wycombe in 1832 as a radical, under the auspices of the late Mr. O'Connell and Mr. Hume, with whose letters of recommendation he placarded the borough walls. The sponsor for his fidelity to their known principles was the author of Pelham," who thus explains his share in the
London, 24th July, 1835.
In answer to your letter, I beg to say that Mr. Disraeli first referred me to a printed handbill of his own, espousing short parliaments, vote by ballot, and untaxed knowledge. I conceived these principles to be the polestar of the sincere Reformers, and to be the reverse of tory I showed that handbill to Mr. Hume; hence the letters of that gentleman and of others. Mr. Disraeli does not deny that he professed those opinions at that time, but he has explained that he meant them for adoption, not against the tories, but whigs. With his explanation I have nothing to do. I question his philosophy, but I do not doubt his honor. When any man tells me that he votes for ballot, short parliaments, and the abolition of the taxes on knowledge, I can only suppose him to be a reformer; such being my principles I would always give him my support; and I should never dream of asking whether he called himself a radical or a tory. I am, sir,
I hope all reformers will rally round you, who entertain liberal opinions in every branch of government, and are prepared to pledge yourself to support reform and economy in every departments for revolutionizing society must be sought at its bottom and its top. The Extreme Right and the Extreme Left must be persuaded to coalesce against the Right and Left Centres. The reason why Shippen, Bromley, Sir William Windham, and other partisans of the Stuarts, wished to repeal the Septennial Act, is therefore obvious enough. They sought to restore an exiled race of sovereigns by popular suffrage. But what fallen dynasty did Mr. Disraeli seek to restore, when he advocated a return to triennial, annual, or "oftener if need be" parliaments?
E. Cox, Esq.
E. L. BULWER.
One of Mr. Hume's recommendatory letters contained the following expressions: —
If the Financial Reform Association had then existed, Mr. Disraeli would undoubtedly have been a member of it, and he did become a member of the Westminster Reform Club. About the same time he was introduced, at his own request, to the late Earl of Durham as a Durhamite, and, in 1833, he was a candidate for the representation of Marylebone on the ultra liberal side.*
*The whole of the documentary and other evidence bearing on this part of Mr. Disraeli's carcer was collected and published in 1836, by Mr. E. Cox, now a barrister on the Western Circuit and late Derbyite candidate for Tewkesbury, in a pamphlet, with his name. This pamphlet formed the basis of a series of articles in the "Globe" (for January, 1836), notoriously and avowedly written by an amiable and accomplished member of the House of Commons, whose untimely death was regretted as a national loss. He, with his genial love of fun, was especially delighted when
Mr. Disraeli magniloquently demanded in the course of the resulting controversy: "How could he be gratified by an ignoble controversy with an obscure animal like the editor of the Globe,' when his own works had been translated at least into the language of polished Europe, and circulated by thousands in the New World ?". -a test of merit, which, in many other instances within our memory, would have placed the authors of ephemeral works of fiction at the head of contemporary literature.