Page images
PDF
EPUB

and here his son Benjamin also had their acquaintance and
conversation. In Bloomsbury Square lived the Austens, and
to their house, a great resort of similar persons, Mrs Austen
cordially welcomed him. Murray's friendship and associations
helped him in like manner, no doubt; and thus was opened
to Disraeli the younger a world in which he was to make a
considerable stir. The very much smaller society of that day
was, of course, more comprehensible to sight and hearing, when
once you were within its borders, than the society of this. Re-
verberations of the gossip of St James's and Mayfair extended|
to Bloomsbury in those days. Yet Disraeli's range of observation
must have been not only brief but limited when he
sat down at twenty or twenty-one to write Vivian Grey.
It is therefore a probable conjecture that Mrs Austen,
a clever woman of the world, helped him from her knowledge.
His own strongly perceptive imagination (the gift in which
he was to excel every other politician of his time) and the bent
of political reading and aspiration from boyhood completed his
equipment; and so the wonder that so young a man in Disraeli's
social position should write a book like Vivian Grey is accounted
for. It was published in 1826. The success of this insolently
clever novel, the immediate introduction of its author to the
great world, and the daring eccentricities of dress, demeanour,
and opinion by which he fixed attention on himself there, have
always been among the most favourite morsels of Disraeli's
history. With them it began, and successive generations of
inquirers into a strange career and a character still shrouded
and baffling refer to them as settled starting-points of investiga-his
tion. What was the man who, in such a society and with
political aspirations to serve, could thrive by such vagaries as
these, or in spite of them? If unaffected, what is to be thought
of them as keys to character? If affected, what then? Inquiry
still takes this shape, and when any part of Disraeli's career is
studied, the laces and essences, the rings over gloves, the jewelled
satin shirt-fronts, the guitareries and chibouqueries of his early
days are never remote from memory. The report of them
can hardly be doubted; and as the last relation was made
(to the writer of this article) not with intent to ridicule Mr
Disraeli's taste but to illustrate his conquering abilities, the
story is repeated here. One of Disraeli's first friends in the world
of fashion and genius was Sir Edward Lytton Bulwer. 'And,"
said Sir Henry Bulwer ("Pelham's " brother), Iwe heard so
much at the time of Edward's amazingly brilliant new friend
that we were the less inclined to make his acquaintance." At
length, however, Sir Edward got up a little dinner-party to con-
vince the doubters. It was to meet at the early hour of those
days at one of the Piccadilly hotels. "There was my brother,
Alexander Cockburn, myself and (I think) Milnes; but for a
considerable time no Mr Disraeli. Waiting for Mr Disraeli did
not enhance the pleasure of meeting him, nor when he did arrive
did his appearance predispose us in his favour. He wore green
velvet trousers, a canary-coloured waistcoat, low shoes, silver
buckles, lace at his wrists, and his hair in ringlets." The descrip-
tion of the coat is forgotten. "We sat down. Not one of us
was more than five-and-twenty years old. We were all-if you
will allow me to include myself-on the road to distinction,
all clever, all ambitious, and all with a perfect conceit of ourselves.
Yet if on leaving the table we had been severally taken aside and
asked which was the cleverest of the party, we should have been
obliged to say 'the man in the green velvet trousers.'" This
story is a little lamp that throws much light. Here we see at
their sharpest the social prejudices that Disraeli had to fight
against, provocation of them carried to its utmost in every
way open to him, and complete conquest in a company of young
men less likely to admit superiority in a wit of their own years,
probably, than any other that could have been brought together
at that time.

""

66

"Vivian Grey."

Soon after the publication of Vivian Grey, Disraeli, who is said by Froude to have been "overtaken by a singular disorder," marked by fits of giddiness (" once he fell into a trance, and did not recover for a week "), went with the Austens on a long summer tour in France, Switzerland and Italy. Returning to a quiet life

at Bradenham-an old manor-house near High Wycombe, which
his father had taken-Disraeli put law in abeyance and resumed
novel-writing. His weakest book, and two or three other pro-
ductions, brief, but in every literary sense the finest of his works,
were written in the next two or three years. But for Ixion in
Heaven, The Infernal Marriage, and Popanilla, Disraeli could not
be placed among the greater writers of his kind; yet none of his
imaginative books have been so little read as these. The
mysterious malady continued, and Disraeli set out with William
Meredith, who was to have married Sarah Disraeli, for
Travel
a tour in southern Europe and the nearer East. He
saw Cadiz, Seville, Granada, Athens, Constantinople, Jerusalem,
Cairo, Thebes; played the corsair with James Clay on a yacht
voyage from Malta to Corfu; visited the terrible Reschid, then
with a Turkish army in the Albanian capital; landed in Cyprus,
and left it with an expectation in his singularly prescient mind
that the island would one day be English. These travels must
have profited him greatly, and we have our share of the advan-
tage; not so much, however, in The Wondrous Tale of Alrey or
Tancred, or the "Revolutionary Epic " which he was inspired to
write on " the windy plains of Troy," but in the letters he sent
home to his sister. These letters, written with the utmost freedom
and fullness to the one whose affection and intellect he trusted
more than any, are of the greatest value for interpreting the
writer. Together with other letters also published some time
after Disraeli's death, they tell more of him than anything that
can be found in print elsewhere. They show, for example, that
extraordinary exuberances were unforced, leaping by natural
impulse from an overcharged source. They also show that his
Oriental fopperies were not so much "purposed affectation" as
Froude and others have surmised. That they were so in great
part is confessed again and again in these letters, but confessed in
such a way as to reveal that they were permitted for his own
enjoyment of them as much as planned. The "purposed
affectation" sprang from an unaffected delight in gauds of attire,
gauds of fancy and expression. It was not only to startle and
impress the world that he paraded his eccentricities of splendour.
His family also had to be impressed by them. It was to his sober
father that he wrote, at the age of twenty-six: "I like a sailor's
life much, though it spoils the toilette." It is in a letter from
Gibraltar to the same hand that we read of his two canes-" a
morning and an evening cane "-changed as the gun fires. And
the same correspondent must be told that " Ralph's handkerchief
which he brought me from Paris is the most successful thing I ever
wore."

When Disraeli returned to England in 1831, all thought of the law was abandoned. The pen of romance was again taken up—

the poet's also and the politician's. In the next five Literary
years he wrote Contarini Fleming, the Revolutionary
produc
Epick, Alroy, Henrietta Temple, What is He? (a Lles.
pamphlet expository of his opinions), the Runnymede
Letters, a Vindication of the British Constitution, and other matter
of less note. The epic, begun in great hope and confidence, was
ended in less, though its author was to the last unwilling that it
should be forgotten. The novels revived the success he had with
Vivian Grey, and restored him to his place among the brilliancies
and powers of the time. The political writing, too, much of it in
a garish, extravagant style, exercised his deeper ambitions, and
stands as witness to the working of original thought and foresight
Both qualities are conspicuous in What is He? and the Vindica-
tion, of which it has been truly said that in these pages he "struck
the keynote to the explanations he afterwards consistently offered
of all his apparent inconsistencies." Here an interpretation of
Tory principles as capable of running with the democratic idea,
and as called upon to do so, is ingeniously attempted. The
aristocratic principle of government having been destroyed by
the Reform Bill, and the House of Lords being practically
"abrogated" by that measure, it became necessary that Toryism
should start from the democratic basis, from which it had never
been alien. The filched liberties of the crown and the people
should be restored, and the nation redeemed from the oligarchies
which had stolen from both. When at the beginning of all this

Mental character

Meanwhile, consciously and unconsciously, as is the way with men of genius, his mind was working upon problems of government, the magnitude, the relations and the natural developments of which he was more sensible of than any known politician of his time. "Sensible of," we say, to mark the difference between one sort of understanding and another which comes of labour and pains alone. Disraeli studied too, no doubt, reading and inquiring and applying set thought, but such means were insufficient to put into his mind all that he found there. It seems that opinions may be formed of inquiry and study alone, which are then constructive; but where intuitive perception or the perceptive imagination is a robust possession, the fruits of research become assimilative-the food of a divining faculty which needs more or less of it according to the power of divination. The better judgment in all affairs derives from this quality, which has some very covetable advantages for its possessor. His judgments may be held with greater confidence, which is an intellectual advantage; and, standing in his mind not so much an edifice as a natural growth, they cannot be so readily abandoned at the call of ease or self-interest. They may be denied assertion or even outraged for a istics. purpose, but they cannot be got rid of,-which is a moral advantage. Disraeli's mind and its judgments were of this character. Its greatest gift was not the romantic imaginawhich he possessed abundantly and employed overmuch, but the perceptive, interpretative, judicial or divining imagination, without which there can be no great man of affairs. Breadth of view, insight, foresight, are more familiar but less adequate descriptions of a faculty which Disraeli had in such force that it took command of him from first to last. Although he knew and acted on the principle that "a statesman is a practical character," whose business is to "serve the country according Here the first period of Disraeli's public life came to an end, a to its present necessities," he was unable to confine his vision period of preliminaries and flourishes, and of what he himself to the nearer consequences of whatever policy, or course of called sowing his political wild oats. It was a more action, or group of conditions it rested on. Without effort, and Enters mature Disraeli who in the general election of 1837 was even without intention probably, it looked beyond first conParlia meat. returned for Maidstone as the colleague of his provi- sequences to the farther or the final outcome; and to complete dential friend Mr Wyndham Lewis. Though the the operation, the faculty which detected the remoter consefortunes of the Tory party were fast reviving under Peel's quences did not allow them to remain in obscurity, but brought guidance, the victory was denied him on this occasion; but, for them out as actualities no less than the first and perhaps far once, the return of the Whigs to power was no great disappoint-more important than the first. Morcover, it did not allow him ment for the junior member for Maidstone. To gain a footing in to keep silence where the remoter consequences were of that the House of Commons was all that his confident spirit ever asked, character, and ought to be provided for betimes. Of course and Froude vouches for it that he succeeded only just in time to silence was always possible. These renderings to foresight avert financial ruin. His electioneering ventures, the friendly might be denied assertion either for the sake of present ease (and backing of bills, and his own expense in keeping up appearances, Disraeli's prescience of much of his country's later troubles only had loaded him with debt. Yet (mark his worldly wisdom) " he made him laughed at) or in deference to hopes of personal had never entangled his friends in his financial dealings. He had advancement. But the same divining imagination which gone frankly to the professional money-lenders, who made showed him these things also showed him the near time when it advances to him in a speculation on his success": they were to would be too late to speak of them, and when not to have spoken get their money back with large interest or lose it altogether. would leave him irredeemably in the common herd of hand-toSuch conditions were themselves incitement enough to a prompt mouth politicians. Therefore he spoke. redemption of the promise of parliamentary distinction, even without the restless spurring of ambition. And Disraeli had another promise to redeem: that which he uttered when he told O'Connell that they would meet again at Philippi. Therefore when, three weeks after the session began; a debate on Irish election petitions gave him opportunity, Disraeli attempted that first House of Commons speech which imagination still dwells upon as something wondrous strange. That he should not have known better, even by hearsay, than to address the House of Commons in fantastic phrase from the mouth of a fantastic figure is indeed remarkable, but not that he retained self-confidence enough to tell the unwitting crew who laughed him down that a time would come when they would hear him. It was one of the least memorable of his prophecies. The speech was a humiliating but not an oppressive failure. In about a week afterwards he spoke again, which shows how little damage he felt, while the good sense, brevity, and blameless manner of the speech (on a copyright bill) announced that he could learn. And for some time thereafter he affected no importance in the House, though not as withdrawing from attention.

writing Disraeli entered the political arena as candidate for High
Wycombe (1832), he was nominated by a Tory and seconded by a
Radical-in vain; and vain were two subsequent attempts in the
autumn of 1832 and in 1834. In the first he was recommended to
the electors by Daniel O'Connell and the Radical Hume. In his
last candidature at Wycombe he stood on more independent
ground, commending himself by a series of speeches which fully
displayed his quality, though the prescience which gemmed them
with more than one prophetic passage was veiled from his
contemporaries. Among Disraeli's great acquaintances were
many Lyndhurst at their head-whose expectations of his
future were confirmed by the Wycombe speeches. He was
thought of" for various boroughs, Marylebone among the
number, but his democratic Toryism seems to have stood in his
way in some places and his inborn dislike of Radicalism in others.
It was an impracticable situation-no getting on from it; and so,
at Lyndhurst's persuasion, as he afterwards acknowledged, he
determined to side with the Tories. Accordingly, when in the
spring of 1835 a vacancy occurred at Taunton, Disraeli contested
the seat in the Tory interest with Carlton Club support. Here
again he failed, but with enhanced reputation as a fighting
politician and with other consequences good for notoriety.
was at Taunton that Disraeli fell upon O'Connell, rather ungrate-
fully; whereupon the Liberator was roused to retort on his
assailant vehemently as "a liar," and humorously as a probabletion
descendant of the impenitent thief. And then followed the
challenge which, when O'Connell declined it, was fastened on his
son Morgan, and the interruption of the duel by seizure of Mr
Disraeli in his bed, and his famous appearance in the Marylebone
police court. He declared himself very well satisfied with this
episode, but nothing in it can really have pleased him, not even
the noise it made.

It

Remembrance of these characteristics-remembrance, too, that his mind, which was neither English nor European, worked in absolute detachment-should accompany the traveller through all the turns and incidents of Disraeli's long career. They are sometimes puzzling, often speculative; yet nearly all that is obscure in them becomes clear, much apparent contradiction disappears, when read by these persistent unvarying lights. The command which his idiosyncrasies had upon him is shown, for example, by reproachful speeches on the treatment of Ireland, and by a startling harangue on behalf of the Chartists, at a time when such irregularities could but damage him, a new man, where he hoped for influence and office. At about the same time his political genius directed him to open a resolute critical campaign against the Conservatism of the party he proposed to thrive in, and he could but obey. This he did in writing Coningsby, a novel of the day and for the day, but commended to us of a later generation not only by the undimmed truth of its characterportraits, but by qualities of insight and foresight which we who have seen the proof of them can measure as his contemporaries

"Coningsby," "Sybil."

could not. Sybil, which was written in the following year (1845), | say rather, looking back, for it was a time of dire distress, is still more remarkable for the faculties celebrated in the pre- especially in the manufacturing districts of the north; so ceding paragraph. When Sybil was written a long historic day that in his second session Peel had to provide some was ending in England, a new era beginning; and no eyes saw relief by revising the corn laws and reducing import so clearly as Disraeli's the death of the old day, the birth of the dues generally. His measures were supported by new, or what and how great their differences would be. In Disraeli, who understood that Protection must bend to the Coningsby the political conditions of the country were illustrated menacing poverty of the time, though unprepared for total and discussed from the constitutional point of view, and by light abolition of the corn tax and strongly of opinion that it was of the theory that for generations before the passing of the not for Peel to abolish it. In the next session (1843) he and his Reform Bill the authority of the crown and the liberties of the Young England party took up a definitely independent rôle, people had been absorbed and extinguished in an oligarchic which became more sharply critical to the end. Disraeli's first system of government, itself become fossilized and soulless. In strong vote of hostility was on a coercion bill for perishing and Sybil were exhibited the social relations of rich and poor (the rebellious Ireland. It was repeated with greater emphasis in "two nations") under this régime, and under changes in which, the session of 1844, also in a condition-of-Ireland debate; and while the peasantry were neglected by a shoddy aristocracy from that time forth, as if foreseeing Peel's course and its effect ignorant of its duties, factory life and a purblind gospel of on the country party, Disraeli kept up the attack. Meanwhile political economy imbruted the rest of the population. These bad harvests deepened the country's distress, Ireland was views were enforced by a startling yet strictly accurate repre- approached by famine, the Anti-Corn-Law League became sentation of the state of things in the factory districts at that menacingly powerful, and Peel showed signs of yielding to free time. Taken from the life by Disraeli himself, accompanied by trade. Disraeli's opportunity was soon to come now; and in one or two members of the Young England party of which he 1845, seeing it on the way, he launched the brilliantly destructive was the head, it was the first of its kind; and the facts as there series of speeches which, though they could not prevent the displayed, and Disraeli's interpretation of them-a marvel of abolition of the corn-laws, abolished the minister who ended perceptive and prophetic criticism-opened eyes, roused con- them. These speeches appeal more to admiration than to sciences, and led direct to many reforms. sympathy, even where the limitations of Disraeli's protectionist beliefs are understood and where his perception of the later consequences of free trade is most cordially acknowledged. That he remained satisfied with them himself is doubtful, unless for their foresight, their tremendous effect as instruments of punishment, and as they swept him to so much distinction. Within three years, on the death of Lord George Bentinck, there was none to dispute with him the leadership of the Conservative party in the House of Commons.

In the parliament of 1841 he was member for Shrewsbury. In 1847 he was returned for Buckinghamshire, and never again had occasion to change his constituency. Up to this time his old debts still embarrassed him, but now his private and political fortunes changed together. Froude reports that he "received a large sum from a private hand for his Life of Lord George Bentinck" (published in 1852)," while a Conservative millionaire took upon himself the debts to the usurers; the 3% with which he was content being exchanged for the 10 % under which Disraeli had been staggering." In 1848 his father Isaac D'Israeli died, leaving to his son Benjamin nearly the whole of his estate. This went to the purchase of Hughenden Manor-not, of course, a great property, but with so much of the pleasant and picturesque, of the dignified also, as quite to explain what it was to the affectionate fancy of its lord. About this time, too (1851), his acquaintance was sought by an old Mrs Brydges Willyamsborn a Spanish Jewess and then the widow of a long-deceased Cornish squire who in her distant home at Torquay had conceived a restless admiration for Benjamin Disraeli. She wrote to him again and again, pressing for an appointment to consult on an important matter of business: would meet him at the fountain of the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park. Her importunity succeeded, and the very small, oddly-dressed, strangemannered old lady whom Disraeli met at the fountain became his adoring friend to the end of her life. Gratitude for her devotion brought him and his wife in constant intimacy with her. There were many visits to Torquay; he gratified her with gossiping letters about the great people with whom and the great affairs with which the man who did so much honour to her race was connected, that being the inspiration of her regard for him. She died in 1863, leaving him all her fortune, which was considerable; and, as she wished, was buried at Hughenden, close to the grave where Disraeli was to lie.

It is agreed that the first three years of Disraeli's leadership in Opposition were skilfully employed in reconstructing the shattered Tory party. In doing this he made it sufficiently clear that there could be no sudden return to Protectionist principles. At the same time, however, he insisted (as he did

These two books, the Vindication, published in 1835, and his speeches up to this time and a little beyond, are quite enough to show what Disraeli's Tory democracy meant, how truly national was its aim, and how exclusive of partisanship for the "landed interest"; though he did believe the stability and prosperity of the agricultural class a national interest of the first order, not on economic grounds alone or even chiefly. And if Disraeli, possessed by these views, became aggressively insubordinate some time before Peel's proclaimed conversion to Free Trade, we can account for it on reasonable and even creditable grounds. Spite, resentment at being passed over when Peel formed the 1841 government, is one explanation of these outbreaks, and a letter to Peel, lately published, is proof to many minds that Disraeli's denial to Peel's face in 1846 that he had ever solicited office was daringly mendacious. The letter certainly reads like solicitation in the customary halfveiled form. All that can be said in doubt is that since the '41 government came into existence on the 6th of September, and the letter was written on the 5th, its interpretation as complaint of being publicly neglected, as a craving for some mark of recognition, is possible. More than possible it is if Disraeli knew on the 5th (as he very well might from his friend Lyndhurst, Peel's lord chancellor) that the appointments were then complete. The pecuniary need of office, if that comes into the question, had been lightened, if not extinguished, two years before by his marriage with Mrs Wyndham Lewis. Mrs Lewis-a lady fifteen years his senior-brought him a considerable fortune which, however, was but for her life. She lived to a great age, and would gladly have lived longer, in any of the afflictions that time brings on, to continue her mere money-worth to her "Dizzy." Her devotion to him, and his devotion to her, is the whole known story of their private life; and we may believe that nothing ever gratified him more than offering her a coronet from Mr Disraeli.

Disraeli made Peel's acquaintance early in his career and showed that he was proud of it. In his Life of Lord George Bentinck he writes of Peel fairly and even generously. But they were essentially antipathetic persons; and it is clear that the great minister and complete Briton took no pains to understand the dazzling young Jew of whom Lyndhurst thought so much, and wished to have little to do with him. Such men make such feelings evident; and there is no reason for thinking that when, after 1841, Disraeli charged at Peel in obedience to his principles, he gave himself pain. It was not long after it had settled in office that Peel's government, the creature of an anxious Conservative reaction, began to be suspected of drifting toward Manchester. That it was forced in that direction we should

Politics, 1841-67.

Disraeli.

As leader
la the
House of
Commons.

from first to last) on the enormous importance to the country, to | advantages. But it was an extremely bad time for Benjamin
the character of its people no less than to its material welfare,
of agricultural contentment and prosperity; and he also obtained Though Lord Palmerston stumbled over his Foreign Conspiracy
a more general recognition of the fact that "the land" Bill in 1858, his popularity was little damaged, and it was in no
had borne fiscal burdens under the old régime which hopeful spirit that the Tories took office again in that year. They
were unfair and unendurable under the new. So far he were perilously weak in the House of Commons, and affairs
did well; and when in 1852 he took office as chancellor abroad, in which they had small practice and no prestige, were
of the exchequer in Lord Derby's first administration, the alarming. Yet the new administration did very well till, after
prospect was a smiling one for a man who, striving against resettling the government of India, and recovering from a blunder
difficulties and prejudices almost too formidable for imagination committed by their Indian secretary, Lord Ellenborough, they
in these days, had attained to a place where he could fancy must needs launch a Reform Bill to put that dangerous question
them all giving way. That, however, they were not. New out of controversial politics. The well-intended but fantastic
difficulties were to arise and old prejudices to revive in full force. measure brought in for the purpose was rejected. The country
His first budget was a quaint failure, and was thrown out by a was appealed to, with good but insufficient results; and at the
coalition of Liberals and Peelites which he believed was formed first meeting of the new parliament the Tories were turned out on
against Mr Disraeli more than against the chancellor of the a no-confidence vote moved by Lord Hartington. Foreign affairs
exchequer. It was on this occasion that he exclaimed, " England supplied the motive: failure to preserve the peace of Europe at
does not love coalitions." After a reign of ten months he was the time of the Italian war of independence. It is said that the
again in Opposition, and remained so for seven years. Of the foreign office had then in print a series of despatches which would
Crimean War he had a better judgment than those whose weak- have answered its accusers had they been presented when the
ness led them into it, and he could tell them the whole truth of debate began, as for some unexplained reason they were not.
the affair in twenty words: "You are going to war with an Lord Palmerston now returned to Downing Street, and while he
opponent who does not want to fight, and whom you are un-lived Disraeli and his colleagues had to satisfy themselves with
willing to encounter." Neither were they prepared; and the what was meant for useful criticism, though with small hope that
scandals and political disturbances that ensued revealed him as it was so for their own service. A Polish insurrection, the
a party leader who could act on such occasions with a dignity, Schleswig-Holstein question, a commercial treaty with France,
moderation and sagacity that served his country well, maintained the Civil War in America, gave Disraeli occasions for speech that
the honour of party government and cost his friends nothing. was always forcible and often wiser than all could see at the time.
The mismanagement of the war broke down the Aberdeen He never doubted that England should be strictly neutral in the
government in 1855, and then Disraeli had the mortification of American quarrel when there was a strong feeling in favour of the
seeing a fortunate chance of return to office lost by the timidity South. All the while he would have gladly welcomed any just
and distrust of his chief, Lord Derby-the distrust too clearly means of taking an animated course, for these were dull, dark
including the under-valuation of Disraeli himself. Lord Derby days for the Conservatives as a parliamentary party. Yet,
wanted Lord Palmerston's help, Mr Gladstone's, Mr Sidney unperceived, Conservatism was advancing. It was much more
Herbert's. This arrangement could not be made; Lord Derby than a joke that Palmerston sheltered Conservative principles
therefore gave up the attempt to form a ministry and Lord under the Liberal flag. The warmth of his popularity, to which
Palmerston came in. The next chance was taken in less favour- Radical applause contributed nothing in his later days, created an
ing times. The government in which Disraeli was again financial atmosphere entirely favourable to the quiet growth of Conservat-
minister lasted for less than eighteen months (1858-1859), and ism. He died in 1865. Earl Russell succeeded him as prime
then ensued another seven years in the cold and yet colder shade minister, Mr Gladstone as leader of the House of Commons. The
of Opposition. Both of these seven-year outings were bad, but party most pleased with the change was the Radical; the party
the second by far the worse. Parliamentary reform had become best served was Disraeli's. Another Reform Bill, memorable for
a burning question and an embarrassing one for the Tory party. driving certain good Liberals into a Cave of Aduilam, broke up
An enormous increase of business, consequent upon the use of the new government in a few months; Disraeli contributing to
steam machinery and free-trade openings to commerce, filled the result by the delivery of opinions not new to him and of
the land with prosperity, and discredited all statesmanship but lasting worth, though presently to be subordinated to arguments
that which steered by the star over Manchester. Mr Gladstone's of an inferior order and much less characteristic.
"At this rate,"
budgets, made possible by this prosperity, were so many triumphs he said in 1866," you will have a parliament that will entirely
for Liberalism. Foreign questions arose which strongly excited lose its command over the executive, and it will meet with less
English feeling-the arrangements of peace with Russia, Italian consideration and possess less influence." Look for declining
struggles for freedom, an American quarrel, the "Arrow" affair statesmanship, inferior aptitude, genius dying off. "Instead of
and the Chinese war, the affair of the French colonels and the these you will have a horde of selfish and obscure mediocrities,
Conspiracy Bill; and as they arose Palmerston gathered into incapable of anything but mischief, and that mischief devised and
his own sails (except on the last occasion) every wind of popular regulated by the raging demagogue of the hour." The Reform
favour. Amid all this the Tory fortunes sank rapidly, becoming legislation which promised these results in 1866 was thrown out.
nearly hopeless when Lord Palmerston, without appreciable Lord Derby's third administration was then formed in the
loss of confidence on his own side, persuaded many Tories in and summer of the same year, and for the third time there was a Tory
out of parliament that Conservatism would suffer little while government on sufferance. Its followers were still a minority in
he was in power. Yet there was great despondency, of course, the House of Commons; an angry Reform agitation was going
in the Conservative ranks; with despondency discontent; with on; an ingenious resolution founded on the demand for an
discontent rancour. The prejudice against Disraeli as Jew, the enlarged franchise serviceable to Liberals might extinguish the
revolt at his theatricalisms, the distrust of him as mystery new government almost immediately; and it is pretty evident
man," which up to this time had never died out even among that the Tory leaders took office meaning to seek a cure for this
men who were his nearest colleagues, were now more openly desperate weakness by wholesale extension of the
indulged. Out of doors he had a "bad press," in parliament suffrage. Their excuses and calculations are well
he had some steady, enthusiastic friends, but more that were known, but when all is said, Lord Derby's statement of
cold. Sometimes he was seen on the front Opposition bench for its character," a leap in the dark," and of its intention,
hours quite alone. Little conspiracies were got up to displace "dishing the Whigs," cannot be bettered. Whether Lord Derby
bim, and might have succeeded but for an unconquerable dread or Mr Disraeli originated this resolve has been much discussed,
of the weapon that destroyed Peel. In this state of things he and it remains an unsettled question. It is known that Disraeli's
patiently held his ground, working for his party more carefully private secretary, Mr Ralph Earle, quarrelled with him violently
than it knew, and never seizing upon false or discrediting at about this time; and Sir William Fraser relates that, meeting

"6

Reform Bill of 1867.

|

Mr Earle, that gentleman said: "I know what your feelings must be about this Reform Bill, and I think it right to tell you that it was not Disraeli's bill, but Lord Derby's. I know everything that occurred." Mr Earle gave the same assurances to the writer of these lines, and did so with hints and half-confidences (quite intelligible, however) as to the persuasions that wrought upon his chief. Mr Earle's listener on these occasions confesses that he heard with a doubting mind, and that belief in what he heard still keeps company with Mahomet's coffin. One thing, however, is clear. To suppose Disraeli satisfied with the excuses made for his adoption of the "dishing" process is forbidden by the whole tenor of his teaching and conduct. He could not have become suddenly blind to the fallacy of the expectations derived from such a course; and all his life it had been his distinction to look above the transient and trafficking expedients of the professional politician. However, the thing was done. After various remodellings, and amid much perturbation, secession, violent reproach, the Household Suffrage Bill passed in August 1867. Another memorable piece of work, the confederation of Canada, had already been accomplished. A few days after parliament met in the next year Lord Derby's failing health compelled him to resign, and Mr Disraeli became prime minister. Irish disaffection had long been astir; the Fenian menace looked formidable not only in Ireland but in England also. The reconstructed government announced its intention of dealing with Irish grievances. Mr Gladstone approved, proposing the abolition of the Irish Church to begin with. A resolution to that effect was immediately carried against the strong opposition of the government. Disraeli insisted that the question should be settled in the new parliament which the franchise act called for, and he seems to have had little doubt that the country would declare against Mr Gladstone's proposal. He was mistaken. It was the great question at the polls; and the first elections by the new constituencies went violently against the authors of their being.

were confirmed by every circumstance of the 1874 elections. But he was well aware of how much he owed to his opponents' errors, seeing at the same time how safely he could lay his future course by them. He had always rejected the political economy of his time, and it was breaking down. He had always refused to accept the economist's dictum without reference to other considerations than the turnover of trade; and even Manchester could pardon the refusal now. The national spirit, vaporized into a cosmopolitan mist, was fast condensing again under mortification and insult from abroad uncompensated by any appreciable percentage of cash profit. This was a changing England, and one that Disraeli could govern on terms of mutual satisfaction; but not if the reviving "spirit of the country" ran to extremes of selfassertion. At one of the great Manchester meetings he said, “ Do not suppose, because I counsel firmness and decision at the right moment, that I am of that school of statesmen who are favourable to a turbulent and aggressive diplomacy. I have resisted it during a large part of my life."

But for the hubbub occasioned by the Public Worship Regulation Act, the first two years of the 1874 administration had no remarkable excitements till near the end of them. The Public Worship Act, introduced by the archbishop of Canterbury, was meant to restrain ritualism. Disraeli, who from first to last held to the Reformed Church as capable of dispensing social good as no other organization might, supported the Bill as "putting down ritualism"; spoke very vehemently; gave so much offence that at one time neither the bill nor the government seemed quite safe. For some time afterwards there was so little legislation of the kind called "enterprising" that even some friends of the government began to think it too tame; but at the end of the second year an announcement was made which put that fear to rest. The news that the khedive's Suez Canal shares had been bought by the government was Suez Canal received with boundless applause. It was a courageous shares. thing to do; but it was not a Disraeli conception, nor did it originate in any government department. It was suggested from without at a moment when the possibility of ever acquiring the shares was passing away. On the morning of the 15th of November 1875, Mr Frederick Greenwood, then editor of the Pall Mall Gazette, went to Lord Derby at the foreign office, informed him that the khedive's shares were passing into the hands of a French syndicate, and urged arrest of the transaction by purchase for England. (The shares being private property their sale could not, of course, be forbidden.) Lord Derby thought there must be a mistake. He could not believe that bargaining of that kind could go on in Cairo without coming to the knowledge of the British consul there. He was answered that nevertheless it was going on. The difficulties of purchase by England were then arrayed by Lord Derby. They were more than one or two, and of course they had a formidable look, but so also had the alternative and the lost opportunity. One difficulty had already come into existence, and had to be met at once. Lord Derby had either to make direct inquiry of the khedive or to let the matter go. If he inquired, and there was no such negotiation, his question might be interpreted in a very troublesome way; moreover, we should put the idea of selling the shares into the khedive's head, which would be unfortunate. "There's my position, and now what do you say?" The answer given, Lord Derby drafted a telegram to the British consul-general at Cairo, and read it out. It instructed Colonel Stanton to go immediately to the khedive and put the question point blank. Meanwhile the prime minister would be seen, and Lord Derby's visitor might call next day to hear the reply from Cairo. It is enough to add here that on receipt of the answer the purchase for England was taken up and went to a speedy conclusion.2

Premier, 1868.

The history of the next five years is Mr Gladstone's. The Irish Church abolished, he set to work with passionate good intention on the Irish land laws. The while he did so sedition took courage and flourished exceedingly, so that to pacify Ireland the constable went hand in hand with the legislator. The abolition of the Irish | Church was followed by a coercion act, and the land act by suspension of Habeas Corpus. Disraeli, who at first preferred retirement and the writing of Lothair, came forward from time to time to point the moral and predict the end of Mr Gladstone's impulsive courses, which soon began to fret the confidence of his friends. Some unpleasant errors of conduct-the case of Sir R. Collier (afterwards Lord Monkswell, q.v.), the Ewelme rectory case,' the significant Odo Russell (Lord Ampthill) episode (to help the government out of a scrape the ambassador was accused of exceeding his instructions)-told yet more. Above all, many humiliating proofs that England was losing her place among the nations came out in these days, the discovery being then new and unendurable. To be brief, in less than four years the government had well-nigh worn out its own patience with its own errors, failures and distractions, and would gladly have gone to pieces when it was defeated on an Irish university bill. But Disraeli, having good constitutional reasons for declining office at the moment, could not allow this. Still gathering unpopularity, still offending, alarming, alienating, the government went on till 1874, suddenly dissolved parliament, and was signally beaten, the Liberal party breaking up. Like most of his political friends, Disraeli had no expectation of such a victory-little hope, indeed, of any distinct success. Yet when he went to Manchester on a brief political outing two years before, he was received with such acclaim as he had never known in his life. He was then sixtyeight years old, and this was his first full banquet of popularity. The elation and confidence drawn from the Manchester meetings 1 The crown had in 1871 appointed the Rev. W. W. Harvey (18101883), a Cambridge man, to the living of Ewelme, near Oxford, for which members of the Oxford house of convocation were alone cligible. Gladstone was charged with evading this limitation in allowing Harvey to qualify for the appointment by being formally admitted M.A. by incorporation.

As if upon the impulse of this transaction, Disraeli opened the next session of parliament with a bill to confer upon the queen the title of empress of India-a measure which ofended

For a detailed, if somewhat controversial, account of this affair, sce Lucien Wolf's article in The Times of December 26, 1905, and Mr Greenwood's letters on the subject.

« PreviousContinue »