Imágenes de páginas

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 care--fully 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 thosewhom 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.

B 2


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 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.

* '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 this statement we are not awure.


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

, a 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,'


[ocr errors]

Israel. $



* 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 a 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.


and this was strictly true ; for whatever may have been the place of his birth, or wherever his father resided, he was sure to be surrounded by books, which were probably the first objects he

saw, and his earliest playthings. Isaac d'Israeli was also in some sense a poet. He wrote graceful and well-turned verses, after the fashion of cultivated men of a century ago. His son may consequently have inherited from him his poetic gifts as well as his literary tastes.

Isaac d'Israeli, being unwilling to subscribe to some of the tenets and practices of the Hebrew community, had differences with its chiefs, and seceded from the Jewish faith. Benjamin was born before this event, and was received into the covenant of Abraham. It was not until he was about fourteen years old that, on the 31st of July, 1817, he was formally admitted by baptism, at St. Andrew's Church, Holborn, into the Christian Church. At an early age he was sent to a school at Walthamstow, kept by Dr. Cogan, a Unitarian, who had the reputation of being a good classical scholar. He was subsequently placed with a

a Mr. Poticary, at Blackheath. He learnt, what was usually taught in such establishments in the first quarter of this century, "a little Latin and less Greek,' and the mere rudiments of arithmetic. Foreign languages then formed no part of education. They were utterly neglected, if not despised, even in our public schools; and to speak French, or to understand any language but English, was considered as something disgraceful, and exposed a lad to ridicule, and even to persecution, from his school-fellows. The traditions of the mighty struggle with France were still fresh in the memories of the English people, and an intense hatred of a Frenchman still distinguished the free and sturdy Briton. This feeling was heartily reciprocated in France; and it would be difficult to say whether a French, or even a French-speaking boy in an English school, or an English boy in a French one, led the most wretched existence. As Lord Beaconsfield was never at a public school or at College, he made no pretence to being a classical scholar, although he was far from being unacquainted with the works of the classic authors of Greece and Rome, and was thoroughly imbued with their spirit. He was, however, deficient in a knowledge of modern languages, a deficiency which he deeply regretted, when he found himself called upon to deal, as a diplomatist and negociator, with questions of the greatest international importance.

Whether the absence of a University education is to be re* When taking part in the sittings of the Congress at Berlin he addressed its members in English.

gretted poetry,




gretted in his case is very doubtful. His character and disposition unfitted him for the training, which it is intended to afford, and which we are in no way disposed to undervalue. Men of the peculiar genius and temperament of Benjamin Disraeli are, perhaps, better left to educate and form themselves. It may be said that Lord Beaconsfield made himself what he was. From his father he may have acquired his taste for letters, and that varied and extensive knowledge of books which distinguished him even as a boy. But there his father's influence ceased. He had none whatever upon his son's future career, and appears never to have understood his character, or to have sympathized with his ambitious dreams.

Whilst cultivating letters, Lord Beaconsfield did not neglect in his youth those accomplishments, which a man of his imagination and early developed ambition would consider necessary to one who believed, that he was destined to make a great figure in the social and political world. At one time he devoted himself ardently to drawing, and might perhaps have distinguished himself as an amateur artist had he persevered in the pursuit. A taste for the fine arts remained to him through life. His knowledge on matters connected with them was considerable. When he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir William Boxall, then Director of the National Gallery, had occasion to see him respecting the purchase of some pictures for that Institution. On returning from the interview, Sir William expressed to a friend his surprise at the acquaintance with art which Mr. Disraeli had shown, adding that his remarks and criticisms showed a technical knowledge of painting, which could scarcely have been expected from a mere amateur.

In his early letters there are frequent references to pictures and architecture, which had especially struck his fancy or appealed to his imagination. His opinions on these subjects were not perhaps such as would be generally accepted in the present day. The standard and knowledge of art were different sixty years ago from what they are now. Since then attention has been directed to the works of men who hold a far higher place, and are far more deserving of our admiration, than the painters of the Bolognese and other eclectic schools, which it was once the fashion to commend to students as fit subjects for study and imitation. In Lord Beaconsfield's youth the masters of Italy who lived previously to the 16th century were, comparatively speaking, unknown; and if we find him in his early travels admiring the pictures of Guercino, Guido, the Caracci, and Domenichino, and passing by those of Giotto, Masaccio, Fra Angelico, and others, who are to Italian art what Chaucer and Spenser are to English

« AnteriorContinuar »