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Art. I.—Lord Beaconsfield's Letters, 1830–1852 ; New Edition
of Home Letters and Correspondence with his Sister,' with additional Letters and Notes. Edited by his Brother. London, 1887. THE time has not yet come to permit of a full examination
and an impartial appreciation of the public life and work of Lord Beaconsfield. The spirit of party is still too high; the eccentricities and foibles which made him a mark for ridicule, and long prevented the recognition of his genius, and the malignant misrepresentations to which he was through life exposed, are still too fresh in the memories of living men to allow of a calm and dispassionate judgment of his character and services as a statesman. We may hope that, ere long, authentic materials will be accessible, which will enable the world to form a true estimate of both, and to do full justice to a man who, with all his faults and failings, is daily rising in public estimation, and who is destined to hold a very high place in the history of his country. Those materials are known to be in the hands of Lord Rowton, Lord Beaconsfield's faithful and attached friend and literary executor, to whom, on his death, he confided his papers and correspondence. The Queen, it is understood, is desirous that they should speedily be published in the form of a biography, with a view to the vindication of the policy and conduct of a Minister, who had earned her esteem, and in whom she placed no ordinary trust. But the task of Lord Beaconsfield's biographer is no easy one, and we can scarcely be surprised that Lord Rowton, if he has not shrunk from it, should have hesitated to enter hurriedly upon it. To write fully and unreservedly the life of a statesman, who but recently played a leading part in public affairs, is a delicate and difficult undertaking. There are many matters absolutely necessary to the full justification of Lord Beaconsfield's policy Vol. 168. —No. 335. B
in certain instances, which must remain for some time to come State secrets, and which it would be a breach of duty of those possessed of them to record, until all risk of danger to the interests of the nation by their disclosure has passed. It is true that we have of late witnessed lamentable instances of the violation of the obligation once recognized by Ministers of the Crown, and imposed upon them by oath, to abstain from all public, and indeed private, reference to what may have passed in the Cabinet. But we trust, that those who have set this bad example will find no followers. Moreover, there are the susceptibilities of former colleagues to be respected, and the fear that heated personal controversies may be revived, which it is in every way desirable should be forgotten.
We doubt whether there be any modern statesman whose biography it would be more difficult to write than that of Lord Beaconsfield ; if the object of his biographer be to give such a full and truthful portrait of his subject as would enable the world to form a just estimate, and to come to a full understanding of the man. His character was so complex, it was composed of so many opposite qualities, there was so much that was great and noble in it, coupled with so much that was cynical and fantastic; his speeches and writings, abounding with fine sentiment and true poetry, are at the same time disfigured by so much that is bombastic and coxcombical; the motives of his conduct were frequently so obscure, and his actions often so abrupt and unexpected, and apparently so rash and inexplicable, that it is scarcely surprising that he came to be looked upon as an enigma, and that he was known to satire and caricature as the great mystery man.' Nevertheless, we are convinced that, when the life of Lord Beaconsfield comes to be written by one fully competent to place it before us in its true light, it will be found, that from early manhood he had marked out for himself a course from which he never deviated, and, after making due allowance for the frivolities and vanities of youth, and for a highly imaginative and romantic temperament, that he possessed the qualities which go to form a great statesman, and which would have raised him to the highest rank in any career that he might have chosen for himself.
It is not, however, with the public life, or the political views, of Lord Beaconsfield that we propose to deal in this article. As we have observed, it is not yet, in our opinion, the time to do so in a manner which would do full justice to his character as a statesman. It is principally to his early life that we desire to direct the attention of our readers, as furnishing, in a remarkable degree, the clue and key to his acts when he found himself
in a position to direct the affairs and shape the policy of his country, and as an example of what can be achieved by indomitable courage, unbounded self-reliance, strength of will, and long-sighted persistency of purpose from the first entrance on the avenue of life to its very close.* We have trustworthy materials for a sketch of this part of his career in the volume containing his letters to his sister—a lady of remarkable abilities, in whose judgment he placed great value, and to whom he was fondly attached—and to other members of his family, which has been published by his brother, Mr. Ralph Disraeli, and in some other letters addressed to intimate friends, which have been placed at our disposal. We will venture to say, that more delightful and entertaining letters than those written to his. family circle have rarely been given to the public. They contain fresh, spirited, and picturesque sketches of life and scenery, which we are disposed to prefer to those more carefully elaborated descriptions to be found in his works of fiction.. They have been criticized as vain-glorious, egotistical, cynical, and as showing a striking absence of generous sentiments. But much in them that may bear that character must be attributed to his fondness for banter, to an affected egotism, and to his habit of mystifying even his most intimate friends. They are, on the other hand, eminently characteristic of the man, with his weaknesses, exaggerated in his youth, which never entirely left him, and which in after years interfered with the full recognition of his true wisdom and patriotism. That he was wanting in generous sentiment and affection is disproved by his conduct towards his wife and his devotion to his family, and to those whom he deemed his friends; although it must be admitted that, in some instances, he made his feelings subservient to his ambition and to the ends that he had proposed to himself. The encouragement, too, that he was ever ready to give to rising young men in political life, by advice and by kindly words in the House of Commons, and the absence of jealousy of those who might compete with him in his political career, were notable and amiable traits in his character. On the other hand, although himself a man of letters and of artistic tastes, he does not appear to have felt much sympathy for authors or artists, to have sought their society, or opened his house to them as did Sir Robert Peel.
Lord Beaconsfield appears to have, as it were, mapped out his life when but a boy, and he followed the course which he had laid down for himself with a truly wonderful perseverance and
* Such were the qualities attributed by Mr. Gladstone to Lord Beaconsfield, in the tribute paid to his memory in the House of Commons.
assurance of ultimate success, with which he allowed no obstacle to interfere. When a mere youth of twenty he excited the laughter and derision of a circle of friends, with whom he was engaged in a political discussion, by exclaiming that, when he became Prime Minister, he would act upon the principles he was then advocating. The same absolute confidence in his future made him tell Lord Melbourne, who asked him how he could serve him, that he wanted to be made Prime Minister, and write to his sister, after hearing Macaulay's best speech,' and some of the most distinguished orators in the Commons :—'I was never more confident of anything than that I could carry everything before me in the House the time will come.'
If ever the child was father of the man,' it was the case with Benjamin Disraeli. There was scarcely an idea or scheme conceived in his youth that was not matured, and, as far as lay in his power, acted upon in after days. There was, with all its apparent inconsistencies, a singular consistency in his conduct and actions through life. It is principally on this account, that his private letters and early works are of so much interest, and explain so much that has been misunderstood and misrepresented in his character.
It is somewhat curious that neither the exact year nor place of Lord Beaconsfield's birth has been ascertained. His most recent biographer says that he was born in the year 1803 or 1804, and either in the Adelphi, or in the King's Road, Gray's Inn. We believe that the latter locality has the best claim to the honour, although he himself is said to have stated that he saw the light in a set of chambers in the Adelphi, and on another occasion that he had been told that it was in Bloomsbury Square.* His grandfather belonged to a family of the Sephardim branch of the Hebrew race, which had been driven from Spain in the 15th century by the cruel persecutions to which the Jews were subjected by the Inquisition after the fall of the Arab dominion. They took refuge in Venice, one of the few Christian States in which Jews were tolerated, although they suffered even there from certain disabilities; were compelled to wear the yellow 0 on their gaberdines, and a yellow cap as a distinctive dress; and were at times exposed to popular fanaticism, and ordered to live out of the city at Mestre. Many of them were specially protected by the Republic, chiefly on
* 'Statesmen Series, Life of Lord Beaconsfield,' by T. E. Kebbel. However, Mr. Hitchman ('Lord Beaconsfield on the Constitution,' preface, p. xliii.) states, as an ascertained fact, that he was born in a house at Islington, now numbered 218 in the Upper Street. Upon what authority he makes tbis statement we are not aware.
account of their financial usefulness, and acquired wealth and influence.
They were, however, confined, as elsewhere in Italy, to a particular quarter known as the Ghetto, which yet exists, and is still inhabited by Jews, although they are no longer required, as formerly, to reside within its limits. The late Mr. Rawdon Brown, who had spent more than half a century in Venice, used to relate that, when he first came there, two old ladies, who were said to be the aunts of Isaac d'Israeli, the author of the Curiosities of Literature,' and the father of the statesman, were still living in the Ghetto, where they kept a small school. We have, however, heard this statement disputed.
Benjamin Disraeli's grandfather, also named Benjamin, came to England and settled there as a merchant, dying at Enfield, where he was still living as late as 1822,* at the advanced age of ninety years. The original name of the family is not known, and we attach little importance to the speculations of Mr. Hitchman, founded upon the imaginative account of the ancestors of Sidonia in Coningsby,' that it could claim descent from the noble Spanish House of Mendoza. † The apostrophic d'' in the name, as originally spelt by Benjamin Disraeli in his early days, and subsequently dropped, was probably the abbreviation of the Italian dei'or degli,' used to denote the family, or tribe, to which a person belonged ; d'Israeli consequently meaning one of Israelitish descent, or a member of a family named Israel. 1
Whether a prolonged residence at Venice had affected the character of Benjamin Disraeli's forefathers, or whether the Venetian traditions still handed down in the family had exercised an influence upon him in boyhood, we can detect a curious undercurrent of Venetian sentiment mingled with the Hebrew element in his writings and opinions.
It is scarcely necessary for us to describe the character and works of his father, Isaac. He was, in the strict sense of the word, 'a man of letters'; an industrious student, a careful collector of facts from miscellaneous literature, a man of wide information and learning, and the master of a clear and graceful style which rendered his books generally popular. Benjamin was accustomed to say that he himself was born in a library,'
Lord Beaconsfield, in the memoir of his father prefixed to the edition of Isaac d'Israeli's works, says that his grandfather died in 1817, which must be & mistake. We have authority for stating that both his grandfather and grandmother were living in 1822. * *Lord Beaconsfield on the Constitution,' Preface, p. xvii.
In writing Benjamin Disraeli's name we have dropped the apostrophe, retaining it in that of his grandfather and father.