BENJAMIN DISRAELI, 1ST EARL OF BEACONSFIELD, KG , PC , FRS (21
December 1804 – 19 April 1881) was a British politician and writer
who twice served as
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom . He played a
central role in the creation of the modern Conservative Party ,
defining its policies and its broad outreach. Disraeli is remembered
for his influential voice in world affairs, his political battles with
the Liberal Party leader
William Ewart Gladstone
Disraeli was born in
Upon Derby's retirement in 1868, Disraeli became Prime Minister
briefly before losing that year's election. He returned to opposition,
before leading the party to a majority in the 1874 election. He
maintained a close friendship with
World events thereafter moved against the Conservatives. Controversial wars in Afghanistan and South Africa undermined his public support. He angered British farmers by refusing to reinstitute the Corn Laws in response to poor harvests and cheap imported grain. With Gladstone conducting a massive speaking campaign , his Liberals bested Disraeli's Conservatives in the 1880 election . In his final months, Disraeli led the Conservatives in opposition. He had throughout his career written novels, beginning in 1826, and he published his last completed novel, Endymion , shortly before he died at the age of 76.
* 1 Early life
* 1.1 Childhood * 1.2 1820s * 1.3 1830s
* 2 Parliament
* 2.1 Back-bencher * 2.2 Bentinck and the leadership
* 3 Office
* 3.1 First Derby government * 3.2 Opposition * 3.3 Second Derby government * 3.4 Opposition and third term as Chancellor
* 4 First term as Prime Minister; opposition leader
* 4.1 First government (February–December 1868) * 4.2 Opposition leader; 1874 election
* 5 Second government (1874–80)
* 5.1 Domestic policy
* 5.1.1 Reforming legislation * 5.1.2 Patronage and Civil Service reform
* 5.2 Foreign policy
* 5.2.1 Suez * 5.2.2 Royal Titles Act * 5.2.3 Balkans and Bulgaria * 5.2.4 Congress of Berlin * 5.2.5 Afghanistan to Zululand
* 5.3 1880 election
* 6 Final months, death, and memorials
* 7 Legacy
* 7.1 Literary * 7.2 Political
* 8 Cartoons, 1846–86
* 9 Works by Disraeli
* 9.1 Novels * 9.2 Poetry * 9.3 Drama * 9.4 Non-fiction
* 10 Notes and references * 11 Sources
* 12 Further reading
* 12.1 Historiography
* 13 External links
* 13.1 Works, Gutenberg Version
Disraeli was born on 21 December 1804 at 6 King's Road, Bedford Row,
Disraeli's siblings were Sarah (1802–1859), Naphtali (born and died
1807), Ralph (1809–1898), and James ("Jem") (1813–1868). He was
close to his sister, and on affectionate but more distant terms with
his surviving brothers. Details of his schooling are sketchy. From
the age of about six he was a day boy at a dame school in Islington
that one of his biographers later described as "for those days a very
high-class establishment". Two years later or so—the exact date
has not been ascertained—he was sent as a boarder to Rev John
Potticary's St Piran\'s school at Blackheath . While he was there
events at the family home changed the course of Disraeli's education
and of his whole life: his father renounced Judaism and had the four
children baptised into the
Church of England
Isaac D'Israeli had never taken religion very seriously, but had
remained a conforming member of the
Bevis Marks Synagogue
Conversion to Christianity enabled Disraeli to contemplate a career
in politics. Britain in the early 19th century was not a greatly
anti-Semitic society, and there had been Members of Parliament (MPs)
from Jewish families since Samson Gideon in 1770. But until 1858 MPs
were required to take the oath of allegiance "on the true faith of a
Christian", necessitating at least nominal conversion. It is not
known whether Disraeli formed any ambition for a parliamentary career
at the time of his baptism, but there is no doubt that he bitterly
regretted his parents' decision not to send him to Winchester College
. As one of the great public schools of England, Winchester
consistently provided recruits to the political élite. His two
younger brothers were sent there, and it is not clear why Isaac
D'Israeli chose to send his eldest son to a much less prestigious
school. The boy evidently held his mother responsible for the
decision; Bradford speculates that "Benjamin's delicate health and his
obviously Jewish appearance may have had something to do with it."
The school chosen for him was run by
Eliezer Cogan at
Higham Hill in
I was at school for two or three years under the Revd. Dr Cogan, a Greek scholar of eminence, who had contributed notes to the Aschylus of Bishop Blomfield, & was himself the Editor of the Greek Gnostic poets. After this I was with a private tutor for two years in my own County, in the pride of boyish erudition, I edited the Idonisian Eclogue of Theocritus, wh. was privately printed. This was my first production: puerile pedantry.
In November 1821, shortly before his seventeenth birthday, Disraeli
was articled as a clerk to a firm of solicitors —Swain, Stevens,
Maples, Pearse and Hunt—in the
City of London
The year after joining Maples's firm, Benjamin changed his surname from D'Israeli to Disraeli. His reasons for doing so are unknown, but the biographer Bernard Glassman surmises that it was to avoid being confused with his father. Disraeli's sister and brothers adopted the new version of the name; Isaac and his wife retained the older form.
Disraeli toured Belgium and the
There was at the time a boom in shares in South American mining
companies. Spain was losing its South American colonies in the face of
rebellions. At the urging of
Murray had for some time had ambitions to establish a new morning
paper to compete with
The bursting of the mining bubble was ruinous for Disraeli. By June 1825 he and his business partners had lost £7,000. Disraeli could not pay off the last of his debts from this debacle until 1849. He turned to writing, motivated partly by his desperate need for money, and partly by a wish for revenge on Murray and others by whom he felt slighted. There was a vogue for what was called "silver-fork fiction"—novels depicting aristocratic life, usually by anonymous authors, read avidly by the aspirational middle classes. Disraeli's first novel, Vivian Grey , published anonymously in four volumes in 1826–27, was a thinly veiled re-telling of the affair of The Representative. It sold well, but caused much offence in influential circles when the authorship was discovered. Disraeli, then just twenty-three, did not move in high society, as the numerous solecisms in his book made obvious. Reviewers were sharply critical on these grounds of both the author and the book. Furthermore, Murray and Lockhart, men of great influence in literary circles, believed that Disraeli had caricatured them and abused their confidence—an accusation denied by the author but repeated by many of his biographers. In later editions Disraeli made many changes, softening his satire, but the damage to his reputation proved long-lasting.
Disraeli's biographer Jonathan Parry writes that the financial failure and personal criticism that Disraeli suffered in 1825 and 1826 were probably the trigger for a serious nervous crisis affecting him over the next four years: "He had always been moody, sensitive, and solitary by nature, but now became seriously depressed and lethargic." He was still living with his parents in London, but in search of the "change of air" recommended by the family's doctors Isaac took a succession of houses in the country and on the coast, before Disraeli sought wider horizons.
Together with his sister's fiancé, William Meredith, Disraeli travelled widely in southern Europe and beyond in 1830–31. The trip was financed partly by another high society novel, The Young Duke, written in 1829–30. The tour was cut short suddenly by Meredith's death from smallpox in Cairo in July 1831. Despite this tragedy, and the need for treatment for a sexually transmitted disease on his return, Disraeli felt enriched by his experiences. He became, in Parry's words, "aware of values that seemed denied to his insular countrymen. The journey encouraged his self-consciousness, his moral relativism, and his interest in Eastern racial and religious attitudes." Blake regards the tour as one of the formative experiences of Disraeli's whole career: "he impressions that it made on him were life-lasting. They conditioned his attitude toward some of the most important political problems which faced him in his later years—especially the Eastern Question; they also coloured many of his novels."
Disraeli wrote two novels in the aftermath of the tour. Contarini Fleming (1832) was avowedly a self-portrait. It is subtitled "a psychological autobiography", and depicts the conflicting elements of its hero's character: the duality of northern and Mediterranean ancestry, the dreaming artist and the bold man of action. As Parry observes, the book ends on a political note, setting out Europe's progress "from feudal to federal principles". The Wondrous Tale of Alroy the following year portrayed the problems of a medieval Jew in deciding between a small, exclusively Jewish state and a large empire embracing all. Friends and allies of Disraeli in the 1830s: clockwise from top left—Croker , Lyndhurst , Henrietta Sykes and Lady Londonderry
After the two novels were published, Disraeli declared that he would
"write no more about myself". He had already turned his attention to
politics in 1832, during the great crisis over the Reform Bill . He
contributed to an anti-Whig pamphlet edited by
John Wilson Croker and
published by Murray entitled England and France: or a cure for
Ministerial Gallomania. The choice of a
Disraeli's politics at the time were influenced both by his rebellious streak and by his desire to make his mark. At that time, the politics of the nation were dominated by members of the aristocracy, together with a few powerful commoners. The Whigs derived from the coalition of lords who had forced through the Bill of Rights in 1689 and in some cases were their actual descendants, not merely spiritual. The Tories tended to support King and Church, and sought to thwart political change. A small number of Radicals, generally from northern constituencies, were the strongest advocates of continuing reform. In the early 1830s the Tories and the interests they represented appeared to be a lost cause. The other great party, the Whigs, were anathema to Disraeli: "Toryism is worn out Disraeli unsuccessfully stood as a Radical at High Wycombe in each.
Disraeli's political views embraced certain Radical policies,
particularly democratic reform of the electoral system, and also some
In April 1835 Disraeli fought a by-election at Taunton as a Tory. The Irish MP Daniel O\'Connell , misled by inaccurate press reports, thought Disraeli had slandered him while electioneering at Taunton; he launched an outspoken attack, referring to Disraeli as:
a reptile ... just fit now, after being twice discarded by the people, to become a Conservative. He possesses all the necessary requisites of perfidy, selfishness, depravity, want of principle, etc., which would qualify him for the change. His name shows that he is of Jewish origin. I do not use it as a term of reproach; there are many most respectable Jews. But there are, as in every other people, some of the lowest and most disgusting grade of moral turpitude; and of those I look upon Mr. Disraeli as the worst.
Disraeli's public exchanges with O'Connell, extensively reproduced in The Times, included a demand for a duel with the 60-year-old O'Connell's son (which resulted in Disraeli's temporary detention by the authorities), a reference to "the inextinguishable hatred with which shall pursue existence", and the accusation that O'Connell's supporters had a "princely revenue wrung from a starving race of fanatical slaves". Disraeli was highly gratified by the dispute, which propelled him to general public notice for the first time. He did not defeat the incumbent Whig member, Henry Labouchere , but the Taunton constituency was regarded as unwinnable by the Tories. Disraeli kept Labouchere's majority down to 170, a good showing that put him in line for a winnable seat in the near future.
With Lyndhurst's encouragement Disraeli turned to writing propaganda
for his newly adopted party. His Vindication of the English
Constitution, was published in December 1835. It was couched in the
form of an open letter to Lyndhurst, and in Bradford's view
encapsulates a political philosophy that Disraeli adhered to for the
rest of his life. Its themes were the value of benevolent
aristocratic government, a loathing of political dogma, and the
The English nation, therefore, rallies for rescue from the degrading plots of a profligate oligarchy, a barbarizing sectarianism, and a boroughmongering Papacy, round their hereditary leaders—the Peers. The House of Lords, therefore, at this moment represents everything in the realm except the Whig oligarchs, their tools the Dissenters, and their masters the Irish priests. In the mean time, the Whigs bawl that there is a "collision!" It is true there is a collision, but it is not a collision between the Lords and the People, but between the Ministers and the Constitution.
Disraeli was now firmly in the
In the election in July 1837 Disraeli won a seat in the House of Commons as one of two members, both Tory, for the constituency of Maidstone . The other was Wyndham Lewis , who helped finance Disraeli's election campaign, and who died the following year. In the same year Disraeli published a novel, Henrietta Temple, which was a love story and social comedy, drawing on his affair with Henrietta Sykes. He had broken off the relationship in late 1836, distraught that she had taken yet another lover. His other novel of this period is Venetia , a romance based on the characters of Shelley and Byron , written quickly to raise much-needed money.
Disraeli made his maiden speech in Parliament on 7 December 1837. He
followed O'Connell, whom he sharply criticised for the latter's "long,
rambling, jumbling, speech". He was shouted down by O'Connell's
supporters. After this unpromising start Disraeli kept a low profile
for the rest of the parliamentary session. He was a loyal supporter of
the party leader Sir
In 1839 Disraeli married Mary Anne Lewis , the widow of Wyndham Lewis. Twelve years Disraeli's senior, Mary Lewis had a substantial income of £5,000 a year. His motives were generally assumed to be mercenary, but the couple came to cherish one another, remaining close until she died more than three decades later. "Dizzy married me for my money", his wife said later, "But, if he had the chance again, he would marry me for love."
Finding the financial demands of his Maidstone seat too much,
Disraeli secured a
For many years in his parliamentary career Disraeli hoped to forge a paternalistic Tory-Radical alliance, but he was unsuccessful. Before the Reform Act 1867 , the working class did not possess the vote and therefore had little political power. Although Disraeli forged a personal friendship with John Bright , a Lancashire manufacturer and leading Radical, Disraeli was unable to persuade Bright to sacrifice his distinct position for parliamentary advancement. When Disraeli attempted to secure a Tory-Radical cabinet in 1852, Bright refused. Clockwise from top left: Bright , Peel , Bentinck and Stanley
Disraeli gradually became a sharp critic of Peel's government, often deliberately taking positions contrary to those of his nominal chief. The best known of these stances were over the Maynooth Grant in 1845 and the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846. But the young MP had attacked his leader as early as 1843 on Ireland and then on foreign policy interventions. In a letter of February 1844, he slighted the Prime Minister for failing to send him a Policy Circular. He laid into the Whigs as freebooters, swindlers and conmen but Peel's own Free Trade policies were directly in the firing line.
President of the Board of Trade ,
The first months of 1846 were dominated by a battle in Parliament between the free traders and the protectionists over the repeal of the Corn Laws, with the latter rallying around Disraeli and Lord George Bentinck . The landowning interest in the Party, under its leader, William Miles MP for East Somerset , had called upon Disraeli to lead the Party. Disraeli had declined, though pledged support to the Country Gentlemen's Interes, as Bentink had offered to lead if he had Disraeli's support. Disraeli stated, in a letter to Sir William Miles of 11 June 1860, that he wished to help "because, from my earliest years, my sympathies had been with the landed interest of England".
An alliance of free-trade Conservatives (the " Peelites "), Radicals, and Whigs carried repeal, and the Conservative Party split: the Peelites moved towards the Whigs, while a "new" Conservative Party formed around the protectionists, led by Disraeli, Bentinck, and Lord Stanley (later Lord Derby).
The split in the
BENTINCK AND THE LEADERSHIP
Peel successfully steered the repeal of the
Corn Laws through
Parliament, and was then defeated by an alliance of all his enemies on
the issue of Irish law and order; he resigned in June 1846. The Tories
remained split and the Queen sent for Lord John Russell , the Whig
leader. In the 1847 general election , Disraeli stood, successfully,
In 1847 a small political crisis occurred which removed Bentinck from
the leadership and highlighted Disraeli's differences with his own
party. In that year's general election,
Lionel de Rothschild had been
returned for the
City of London
Disraeli spoke in favour of the measure, arguing that Christianity was "completed Judaism", and asking the House of Commons "Where is your Christianity if you do not believe in their Judaism?" Russell and Disraeli's future rival Gladstone thought it brave of him to speak as he did; the speech was badly received by his own party. The Tories and the Anglican establishment were hostile to the bill. Samuel Wilberforce , Bishop of Oxford , spoke strongly against the measure and implied that Russell was paying off the Jews for helping elect him. With the exception of Disraeli, every member of the future protectionist cabinet then in Parliament voted against the measure. One who was not yet an MP, Lord John Manners , stood against Rothschild when the latter re-submitted himself for election in 1849. Disraeli, who had attended the Protectionists dinner at the Merchant Taylors Hall, joined Bentinck in speaking and voting for the bill, although his own speech was a standard one of toleration. The measure was voted down.
In the aftermath of the debate Bentinck resigned the leadership and
was succeeded by Lord Granby ; Disraeli's own speech, thought by many
of his own party to be blasphemous, ruled him out for the time being.
While these intrigues played out, Disraeli was working with the
Bentinck family to secure the necessary financing to purchase
Hughenden Manor , in
Within a month of his appointment Granby resigned the leadership in the Commons, feeling himself inadequate to the post, and the party functioned without a leader in the Commons for the rest of the parliamentary session. At the start of the next session, affairs were handled by a triumvirate of Granby, Disraeli, and John Charles Herries —indicative of the tension between Disraeli and the rest of the party, who needed his talents but mistrusted him. This confused arrangement ended with Granby's resignation in 1851; Disraeli effectively ignored the two men regardless.
FIRST DERBY GOVERNMENT
In March 1851, Lord John Russell's government was defeated over a bill to equalise the county and borough franchises, mostly because of divisions among his supporters. He resigned, and the Queen sent for Stanley, who felt that a minority government could do little and would not last long, so Russell remained in office. Disraeli regretted this, hoping for an opportunity, however brief, to show himself capable in office. Stanley, on the other hand, deprecated his inexperienced followers as a reason for not assuming office, "These are not names I can put before the Queen."
At the end of June 1851, Stanley's father died, and he succeeded to
his title as
Earl of Derby
In the following weeks, Disraeli served as Leader of the House (with Derby as Prime Minister in the Lords) and as Chancellor. He wrote regular reports on proceedings in the Commons to Victoria, who described them as "very curious" and "much in the style of his books". Parliament was prorogued on 1 July 1852 as the Tories could not govern for long as a minority; Disraeli hoped that they would gain a majority of about 40. Instead, the election later that month had no clear winner, and the Derby government held to power pending the meeting of Parliament.
Disraeli's task as Chancellor was to devise a budget which would satisfy the protectionist elements who supported the Tories, without uniting the free-traders against it. His proposed budget, which he presented to the Commons on 3 December, lowered the taxes on malt and tea, provisions designed to appeal to the working class. To make his budget revenue-neutral, as funds were needed to provide defences against the French, he doubled the house tax and continued the income tax. Disraeli's overall purpose was to enact policies which would benefit the working classes, making his party more attractive to them. Although the budget did not contain protectionist features, the opposition was prepared to destroy it—and Disraeli's career as Chancellor—in part out of revenge for his actions against Peel in 1846. MP Sidney Herbert predicted that the budget would fail because "Jews make no converts". Gladstone in the 1850s
Disraeli delivered the budget on 3 December 1852, and prepared to
wind up the debate for the government on 16 December—it was
customary for the Chancellor to have the last word. A massive defeat
for the government was predicted. Disraeli attacked his opponents
individually, and then as a force, "I face a Coalition ... This, too,
I know, that England does not love coalitions." His speech of three
hours was quickly seen as a parliamentary masterpiece. As MPs prepared
to divide, Gladstone rose to his feet and began an angry speech,
despite the efforts of
With the fall of the government, Disraeli and the Conservatives returned to the opposition benches. Disraeli would spend three-quarters of his 44-year parliamentary career in opposition. Derby was reluctant to seek to unseat the government, fearing a repetition of the Who? Who? Ministry and knowing that despite his lieutenant's strengths, shared dislike of Disraeli was part of what had formed the governing coalition. Disraeli, on the other hand, was anxious to return to office. In the interim, Disraeli, as Conservative leader in the Commons, opposed the government on all major measures.
In June 1853 Disraeli was awarded an honorary degree by Oxford University . He had been recommended for it by Lord Derby, the university's Chancellor . The start of the Crimean War in 1854 caused a lull in party politics; Disraeli spoke patriotically in support. The British military efforts were marked by bungling, and in 1855 a restive Parliament considered a resolution to establish a committee on the conduct of the war. The Aberdeen government chose to make this a motion of confidence ; Disraeli led the opposition to defeat the government, 305 to 148. Aberdeen resigned, and the Queen sent for Derby, who to Disraeli's frustration refused to take office. Palmerston was deemed essential to any Whig ministry, and he would not join any he did not head. The Queen reluctantly asked Palmerston to form a government. Under Palmerston, the war went better, and was ended by the Treaty of Paris in early 1856. Disraeli was early to call for peace, but had little influence on events.
When a rebellion broke out in India in 1857, Disraeli took a keen interest in affairs, having been a member of a select committee in 1852 which considered how best to rule the subcontinent, and had proposed eliminating the governing role of the British East India Company . After peace was restored, and Palmerston in early 1858 brought in legislation for direct rule of India by the Crown, Disraeli opposed it. Many Conservative MPs refused to follow him and the bill passed the Commons easily.
Palmerston's grip on the premiership was weakened by his response to
Orsini affair , in which an attempt was made to assassinate the
SECOND DERBY GOVERNMENT
Main article: Third Derby ministry
Derby took office at the head of a purely "Conservative" administration, not in coalition with any other faction. He again offered a place to Gladstone, who declined. Disraeli was once more leader of the House of Commons and returned to the Exchequer. As in 1852, Derby led a minority government , dependent on the division of its opponents for survival. As Leader of the House, Disraeli resumed his regular reports to Queen Victoria, who had requested that he include what she "could not meet in newspapers".
During its brief life of just over a year, the Derby government proved moderately progressive. The Government of India Act 1858 ended the role of the East India Company in governing the subcontinent. It also passed the Thames Purification Bill, which funded the construction of much larger sewers for London. Disraeli had supported efforts to allow Jews to sit in Parliament —the oaths required of new members could only be made in good faith by a Christian. Disraeli had a bill passed through the Commons allowing each house of Parliament to determine what oaths its members should take. This was grudgingly agreed to by the House of Lords, with a minority of Conservatives joining with the opposition to pass it. In 1858, Baron Lionel de Rothschild became the first MP to profess the Jewish faith.
Faced with a vacancy, Disraeli and Derby tried yet again to bring Gladstone, still nominally a Conservative MP, into the government, hoping to strengthen it. Disraeli wrote a personal letter to Gladstone, asking him to place the good of the party above personal animosity: "Every man performs his office, and there is a Power, greater than ourselves, that disposes of all this." In responding to Disraeli, Gladstone denied that personal feelings played any role in his decisions then and previously whether to accept office, while acknowledging that there were differences between him and Derby "broader than you may have supposed".
The Tories pursued a Reform Bill in 1859, which would have resulted
in a modest increase to the franchise. The Liberals were healing the
breaches between those who favoured Russell and the Palmerston
loyalists, and in late March 1859, the government was defeated on a
Russell-sponsored amendment. Derby dissolved Parliament, and the
ensuing general election resulted in modest
OPPOSITION AND THIRD TERM AS CHANCELLOR
Main article: Conservative government, 1866–1868
After Derby's second ejection from office, Disraeli faced dissension within Conservative ranks from those who blamed him for the defeat, or who felt he was disloyal to Derby—the former Prime Minister warned Disraeli of some MPs seeking his removal from the front bench. Among the conspirators were Lord Robert Cecil , a young Conservative MP who would a quarter century later become Prime Minister as Lord Salisbury; he wrote that having Disraeli as leader in the Commons decreased the Conservatives' chance of holding office. When Cecil\'s father objected, Lord Robert stated, "I have merely put into print what all the country gentlemen were saying in private." Lord Robert Cecil , Disraeli's fierce opponent in the 1860s, but later his ally and successor
Disraeli led a toothless opposition in the Commons—seeing no way of
unseating Palmerston, Derby had privately agreed not to seek the
government's defeat. Disraeli kept himself informed on foreign
affairs, and on what was going on in cabinet, thanks to a source
within it. When the
American Civil War
The party truce ended in 1864, with Tories outraged over Palmerston's
handling of the territorial dispute between the German Confederation
and Denmark known as the
Schleswig-Holstein Question . Disraeli had
little help from Derby, who was ill, but he united the party enough on
a no-confidence vote to limit the government to a majority of
Political plans were thrown into disarray by Palmerston's death on 18 October 1865. Russell became Prime Minister again, with Gladstone clearly the Liberal Party's leader-in-waiting, and as Leader of the House Disraeli's direct opponent. One of Russell's early priorities was a Reform Bill, but the proposed legislation that Gladstone announced on 12 March 1866 divided his party. The Conservatives and the dissident Liberals repeatedly attacked Gladstone's bill, and in June finally defeated the government; Russell resigned on 26 June. The dissidents were unwilling to serve under Disraeli in the House of Commons, and Derby formed a third Conservative minority government, with Disraeli again as Chancellor. In 1867, the Conservatives introduced a Reform Bill. Without a majority in the Commons, the Conservatives had little choice but to accept amendments that considerably liberalised the legislation, though Disraeli refused to accept any from Gladstone.
The Reform Act 1867 passed that August, extending the franchise by 938,427—an increase of 88%—by giving the vote to male householders and male lodgers paying at least £10 for rooms. It eliminated rotten boroughs with fewer than 10,000 inhabitants, and granted constituencies to 15 unrepresented towns, with extra representation to large municipalities such as Liverpool and Manchester. This act was unpopular with the right wing of the Conservative Party, most notably Lord Cranborne (as Robert Cecil was by then known), who resigned from the government and spoke against the bill, accusing Disraeli of "a political betrayal which has no parallel in our Parliamentary annals". Cranborne, however, was unable to lead an effective rebellion against Derby and Disraeli. Disraeli gained wide acclaim and became a hero to his party for the "marvellous parliamentary skill" with which he secured the passage of Reform in the Commons.
Derby had long suffered from attacks of gout which sent him to his bed, unable to deal with politics. As the new session of Parliament approached in February 1868, he was bedridden at his home, Knowsley Hall , near Liverpool. He was reluctant to resign, reasoning that he was only 68, much younger than either Palmerston or Russell at the end of their premierships. Derby knew that his "attacks of illness would, at no distant period, incapacitate me from the discharge of my public duties"; doctors had warned him that his health required his resignation from office. In late February, with Parliament in session and Derby absent, he wrote to Disraeli asking for confirmation that "you will not shrink from the additional heavy responsibility". Reassured, he wrote to the Queen, resigning and recommending Disraeli as "only he could command the cordial support, en masse, of his present colleagues". Disraeli went to Osborne House on the Isle of Wight , where the Queen asked him to form a government. The monarch wrote to her daughter, Prussian Crown Princess Victoria , "Mr. Disraeli is Prime Minister! A proud thing for a man 'risen from the people' to have obtained!" The new Prime Minister told those who came to congratulate him, "I have climbed to the top of the greasy pole."
FIRST TERM AS PRIME MINISTER; OPPOSITION LEADER
Main articles: First premiership of Benjamin Disraeli and First Disraeli ministry
FIRST GOVERNMENT (FEBRUARY–DECEMBER 1868)
Clockwise from top left: Chelmsford , Cairns , Hunt and Manning
The Conservatives remained a minority in the House of Commons and the passage of the Reform Bill required the calling of a new election once the new voting register had been compiled. Disraeli's term as Prime Minister, which began in February 1868, would therefore be short unless the Conservatives won the general election. He made only two major changes in the cabinet: he replaced Lord Chelmsford as Lord Chancellor with Lord Cairns , and brought in George Ward Hunt as Chancellor of the Exchequer. Derby had intended to replace Chelmsford once a vacancy in a suitable sinecure developed. Disraeli was unwilling to wait, and Cairns, in his view, was a far stronger minister.
Disraeli's first premiership was dominated by the heated debate over
Church of Ireland
The Conservatives remained in office because the new electoral register was not yet ready; neither party wished a poll under the old roll. Gladstone began using the Liberal majority in the House of Commons to push through resolutions and legislation. Disraeli's government survived until the December general election , at which the Liberals were returned to power with a majority of about 110.
Despite its short life, the first Disraeli government succeeded in
passing a number of pieces of legislation of a politically
noncontentious sort. It ended public executions, and the Corrupt
Practices Act did much to end electoral bribery. It authorised an
early version of nationalisation , having the Post Office buy up the
telegraph companies. Amendments to the school law, the Scottish legal
system, and the railway laws were passed. Disraeli sent the
successful expedition against
OPPOSITION LEADER; 1874 ELECTION
Disraeli circa 1870
With Gladstone's Liberal majority dominant in the Commons, Disraeli could do little but protest as the government advanced legislation. Accordingly, he chose to await Liberal mistakes. Having leisure time as he was not in office, he wrote a new novel, Lothair (1870). A work of fiction by a former Prime Minister was a new thing for Britain, and the book became a best seller.
By 1872 there was dissent in the Conservative ranks over the failure to challenge Gladstone and his Liberals. This was quieted as Disraeli took steps to assert his leadership of the party, and as divisions among the Liberals became clear. Public support for Disraeli was shown by cheering at a thanksgiving service in 1872 on the recovery of the Prince of Wales from illness, while Gladstone was met with silence. Disraeli had supported the efforts of party manager John Eldon Gorst to put the administration of the Conservative Party on a modern basis. On Gorst's advice, Disraeli gave a speech to a mass meeting in Manchester that year. To roaring approval, he compared the Liberal front bench to "a range of exhausted volcanoes. Not a flame flickers on a single pallid crest. But the situation is still dangerous. There are occasional earthquakes and ever and again the dark rumbling of the sea." Gladstone, Disraeli stated, dominated the scene and "alternated between a menace and a sigh".
At his first departure from
10 Downing Street in 1868, Disraeli had
had Victoria create Mary Anne Viscountess of
In 1873, Gladstone brought forward legislation to establish a Catholic university in Dublin. This divided the Liberals, and on 12 March an alliance of Conservatives and Irish Catholics defeated the government by three votes. Gladstone resigned, and the Queen sent for Disraeli, who refused to take office. Without a general election, a Conservative government would be another minority, dependent for survival on the division of its opponents. Disraeli wanted the power a majority would bring, and felt he could gain it later by leaving the Liberals in office now. Gladstone's government struggled on, beset by scandal and unimproved by a reshuffle. As part of that change, Gladstone took on the office of Chancellor, leading to questions as to whether he had to stand for re-election on taking on a second ministry—until the 1920s, MPs becoming ministers, thus taking an office of profit under the Crown, had to seek re-election.
In January 1874, Gladstone called a general election, convinced that if he waited longer, he would do worse at the polls. Balloting was spread over two weeks, beginning on 1 February. Disraeli devoted much of his campaign to decrying the Liberal programme of the past five years. As the constituencies voted, it became clear that the result would be a Conservative majority, the first since 1841. In Scotland, where the Conservatives were perennially weak, they increased from seven seats to nineteen. Overall, they won 350 seats to 245 for the Liberals and 57 for the Irish Home Rule League . The Queen sent for Disraeli, and he became Prime Minister for the second time.
SECOND GOVERNMENT (1874–80)
Main articles: Second premiership of Benjamin Disraeli and Second Disraeli ministry Derby (top) and Northcote
Disraeli's cabinet of twelve, with six peers and six commoners, was the smallest since Reform . Of the peers, five of them had been in Disraeli's 1868 cabinet; the sixth, Lord Salisbury, was reconciled to Disraeli after negotiation and became Secretary of State for India . Lord Stanley (who had succeeded his father, the former Prime Minister, as Earl of Derby) became Foreign Secretary and Sir Stafford Northcote the Chancellor.
In August 1876, Disraeli was elevated to the
House of Lords
In addition to the viscounty bestowed on Mary Anne Disraeli; the
Under the stewardship of
Richard Assheton Cross , the Home Secretary
, Disraeli's new government enacted many reforms, including the
Artisans\' and Labourers\' Dwellings Improvement Act 1875 , which
made inexpensive loans available to towns and cities to construct
working-class housing. Also enacted were the
Public Health Act 1875
Disraeli's government also introduced a new Factory Act meant to protect workers, the Conspiracy, and Protection of Property Act 1875 , which allowed peaceful picketing, and the Employers and Workmen Act (1875) to enable workers to sue employers in the civil courts if they broke legal contracts. As a result of these social reforms the Liberal-Labour MP Alexander Macdonald told his constituents in 1879, "The Conservative party have done more for the working classes in five years than the Liberals have in fifty."
Patronage And Civil Service Reform
Disraeli's failure to appoint
Gladstone in 1870 had sponsored an Order in Council , introducing competitive examination into the Civil Service , diminishing the political aspects of government hiring. Disraeli did not agree, and while he did not seek to reverse the order, his actions often frustrated its intent. For example, Disraeli made political appointments to positions previously given to career civil servants. In this, he was backed by his party, hungry for office and its emoluments after almost thirty years with only brief spells in government. Disraeli gave positions to hard-up Conservative leaders, even—to Gladstone's outrage—creating one office at £2,000 per year. Nevertheless, Disraeli made fewer peers (only 22, and one of those one of Victoria's sons) than had Gladstone—the Liberal leader had arranged for the bestowal of 37 peerages during his just over five years in office.
As he had in government posts, Disraeli rewarded old friends with
clerical positions, making
Sydney Turner , son of a good friend of
Dean of Ripon . He favoured
Low church clergymen in
promotion, disliking other movements in
Anglicanism for political
reasons. In this, he came into disagreement with the Queen, who out of
loyalty to her late husband,
Albert, Prince Consort , preferred Broad
church teachings. One controversial appointment had occurred shortly
before the 1868 election . When the position of Archbishop of
Canterbury fell vacant, Disraeli reluctantly agreed to the Queen's
Archibald Tait , the
Bishop of London
Disraeli always considered foreign affairs to be the most critical and most interesting part of statesmanship. Nevertheless, his biographer Robert Blake doubts that his subject had specific ideas about foreign policy when he took office in 1874. He had rarely travelled abroad; since his youthful tour of the Middle East in 1830–1831, he had left Britain only for his honeymoon and three visits to Paris, the last of which was in 1856. As he had criticised Gladstone for a do-nothing foreign policy, he most probably contemplated what actions would reassert Britain's place in Europe. His brief first premiership, and the first year of his second, gave him little opportunity to make his mark in foreign affairs.
New Crowns for Old depicts Disraeli as Abanazer from the
Disraeli cultivated a public image of himself as an Imperialist with
grand gestures such as conferring on
Disraeli had passed near Suez in his tour of the Middle East in his
youth, and on taking office, recognising the British interest in the
canal as a gateway to India, he sent the Liberal MP Nathan Rothschild
to Paris to enquire about buying de Lesseps's shares. On 14 November
1875, the editor of the
Pall Mall Gazette ,
Frederick Greenwood ,
learned from London banker Henry Oppenheim that the Khedive was
seeking to sell his shares in the
Suez Canal Company
Disraeli told the Queen, "it is settled; you have it, madam!" The
public saw the venture as a daring British statement of its dominance
of the seas. Sir Ian Malcolm described the
Royal Titles Act
Although initially curious about Disraeli when he entered Parliament
in 1837, Victoria came to detest him over his treatment of Peel. Over
time, her dislike softened, especially as Disraeli took pains to
cultivate her. He told
Victoria had long wished to have an imperial title, reflecting Britain's expanding domain. She was irked when Czar Alexander II held a higher rank than her as an emperor, and was appalled that her daughter, the Prussian Crown Princess, would outrank her when her husband came to the throne. She also saw an imperial title as proclaiming Britain's increased stature in the world. The title " Empress of India " had been used informally with respect to Victoria for some time and she wished to have that title formally bestowed on her. The Queen prevailed upon Disraeli to introduce a Royal Titles Bill, and also told of her intent to open Parliament in person, which during this time she did only when she wanted something from legislators. Disraeli was cautious in response, as careful soundings of MPs brought a negative reaction, and declined to place such a proposal in the Queen\'s Speech .
Once the desired bill was prepared, Disraeli's handling of it was not adept. He neglected to notify either the Prince of Wales or the opposition, and was met by irritation from the prince and a full-scale attack from the Liberals. An old enemy of Disraeli, former Liberal Chancellor Robert Lowe , alleged during the debate in the Commons that two previous Prime Ministers had refused to introduce such legislation for the Queen. Gladstone immediately stated that he was not one of them, and the Queen gave Disraeli leave to quote her saying she had never approached a Prime Minister with such a proposal. According to Blake, Disraeli "in a brilliant oration of withering invective proceeded to destroy Lowe", who apologised and never held office again. Disraeli said of Lowe that he was the only person in London with whom he would not shake hands and, "he is in the mud and there I leave him."
Fearful of losing, Disraeli was reluctant to bring the bill to a vote in the Commons, but when he eventually did, it passed with a majority of 75. Once the bill was formally enacted, Victoria began signing her letters "Victoria R "> Fight in Bulgaria during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–78
In July 1875 Serb populations in
Gladstone, who had left the Liberal leadership and retired from
public life, was appalled by reports of atrocities in Bulgaria , and
in August 1876, penned a hastily written pamphlet arguing that the
Turks should be deprived of Bulgaria because of what they had done
there. He sent a copy to Disraeli, who called it "vindictive and
ill-written ... of all the Bulgarian horrors perhaps the greatest".
Gladstone's pamphlet became an immense best-seller and rallied the
Liberals to urge that the
Disraeli and the cabinet sent Salisbury as lead British
representative to the
Parliament opened in February 1877, with Disraeli now in the Lords as Earl of Beaconsfield. He spoke only once there in the 1877 session on the Eastern Question, stating on 20 February that there was a need for stability in the Balkans, and that forcing Turkey into territorial concessions would do nothing to secure it. The Prime Minister wanted a deal with the Ottomans whereby Britain would temporarily occupy strategic areas to deter the Russians from war, to be returned on the signing of a peace treaty, but found little support in his cabinet, which favoured partition of the Ottoman Empire. As Disraeli, by then in poor health, continued to battle within the cabinet, Russia invaded Turkey on 21 April, beginning the Russo-Turkish War .
Congress Of Berlin
Main article: Congress of Berlin
The Russians pushed through Ottoman territory and by December 1877 had captured the strategic Bulgarian town of Plevna ; their march on Constantinople seemed inevitable. The war divided the British, but the Russian success caused some to forget the atrocities and call for intervention on the Turkish side. Others hoped for further Russian successes. The fall of Plevna was a major story for weeks in the newspapers, and Disraeli's warnings that Russia was a threat to British interests in the eastern Mediterranean were deemed prophetic. The jingoistic attitude of many Britons increased Disraeli's political support, and the Queen acted to help him as well, showing her favour by visiting him at Hughenden—the first time she had visited the country home of her Prime Minister since the Melbourne ministry . At the end of January 1878, the Ottoman Sultan appealed to Britain to save Constantinople. Amid war fever in Britain, the government asked Parliament to vote £6,000,000 to prepare the Army and Navy for war. Gladstone, who had involved himself again in politics, opposed the measure, but less than half his party voted with him. Popular opinion was with Disraeli, though some thought him too soft for not immediately declaring war on Russia. Bulgaria as constituted under the San Stefano treaty and as divided at Berlin
With the Russians close to Constantinople, the Turks yielded and in
March 1878, signed the
Treaty of San Stefano
In advance of the meeting, confidential negotiations took place
between Britain and Russia in April and May 1878. The Russians were
willing to make changes to the big Bulgaria, but were determined to
retain their new possessions,
The Congress of Berlin was held in June and July 1878, the central relationship in it that between Disraeli and Bismarck. In later years, the German chancellor would show visitors to his office three pictures on the wall: "the portrait of my Sovereign, there on the right that of my wife, and on the left, there, that of Lord Beaconsfield". Disraeli caused an uproar in the congress by making his opening address in English, rather than in French, hitherto accepted as the international language of diplomacy. By one account, the British ambassador in Berlin, Lord Odo Russell , hoping to spare the delegates Disraeli's awful French accent, told Disraeli that the congress was hoping to hear a speech in the English tongue by one of its masters.
Disraeli left much of the detailed work to Salisbury, concentrating
his efforts on making it as difficult as possible for the broken-up
big Bulgaria to reunite. Disraeli did not have things all his own
way: he intended that
Disraeli gained agreement that Turkey should retain enough of its
European possessions to safeguard the
The Treaty of Berlin was signed on 13 July 1878 at the Radziwill Palace in Berlin. Disraeli and Salisbury returned home to heroes' receptions at Dover and in London. At the door of 10 Downing Street , Disraeli received flowers sent by the Queen. There, he told the gathered crowd, "Lord Salisbury and I have brought you back peace—but a peace I hope with honour." The Queen offered him a dukedom, which he declined, though accepting the Garter , as long as Salisbury also received it. In Berlin, word spread of Bismarck's admiring description of Disraeli, "Der alte Jude, das ist der Mann! "
Afghanistan To Zululand
In the weeks after Berlin, Disraeli and the cabinet considered calling a general election to capitalise on the public applause he and Salisbury had received. Parliaments were then for a seven-year term, and it was the custom not to go to the country until the sixth year unless forced to by events. Only four and a half years had passed since the last general election. Additionally, they did not see any clouds on the horizon that might forecast Conservative defeat if they waited. This decision not to seek re-election has often been cited as a great mistake by Disraeli. Blake, however, pointed out that results in local elections had been moving against the Conservatives, and doubted if Disraeli missed any great opportunity by waiting.
As successful invasions of India generally came through Afghanistan, the British had observed and sometimes intervened there since the 1830s, hoping to keep the Russians out. In 1878 the Russians sent a mission to Kabul; it was not rejected by the Afghans, as the British had hoped. The British then proposed to send their own mission, insisting that the Russians be sent away. The Viceroy , Lord Lytton , concealed his plans to issue this ultimatum from Disraeli, and when the Prime Minister insisted he take no action, went ahead anyway. When the Afghans made no answer, the British advanced against them in the Second Anglo-Afghan War , and under Lord Roberts easily defeated them. The British installed a new ruler, and left a mission and garrison in Kabul.
British policy in South Africa was to encourage federation between
On 8 September 1879 Sir Louis Cavagnari , in charge of the mission in Kabul, was killed with his entire staff by rebelling Afghan soldiers. Roberts undertook a successful punitive expedition against the Afghans over the next six weeks. Portrait of Disraeli published in 1873
Main article: United Kingdom general election, 1880
Gladstone, in the 1874 election, had been returned for Greenwich , finishing second behind a Conservative in the two-member constituency, a result he termed more like a defeat than a victory. In December 1878, he was offered the Liberal nomination at the next election for Edinburghshire , a constituency popularly known as Midlothian. The small Scottish electorate was dominated by two noblemen, the Conservative Duke of Buccleuch and the Liberal Earl of Rosebery . The Earl, a friend of both Disraeli and Gladstone who would succeed the latter after his final term as Prime Minister, had journeyed to the United States to view politics there, and was convinced that aspects of American electioneering could be translated to the United Kingdom. On his advice, Gladstone accepted the offer in January 1879, and later that year began his Midlothian campaign , speaking not only in Edinburgh, but across Britain, attacking Disraeli, to huge crowds.
Conservative chances of re-election were damaged by the poor weather, and consequent effects on agriculture. Four consecutive wet summers through 1879 had led to poor harvests in the United Kingdom. In the past, the farmer had the consolation of higher prices at such times, but with bumper crops cheaply transported from the United States, grain prices remained low. Other European nations, faced with similar circumstances, opted for protection, and Disraeli was urged to reinstitute the Corn Laws. He declined, stating that he regarded the matter as settled. Protection would have been highly unpopular among the newly enfranchised urban working classes, as it would raise their cost of living. Amid an economic slump generally, the Conservatives lost support among farmers.
Disraeli's health continued to fail through 1879. Owing to his infirmities, Disraeli was three-quarters of an hour late for the Lord Mayor\'s Dinner at the Guildhall in November, at which it is customary that the Prime Minister speaks. Though many commented on how healthy he looked, it took him great effort to appear so, and when he told the audience he expected to speak to the dinner again the following year, attendees chuckled—Gladstone was then in the midst of his campaign. Despite his public confidence, Disraeli recognised that the Conservatives would probably lose the next election, and was already contemplating his Resignation Honours .
Despite this pessimism, Conservatives hopes were buoyed in early 1880 with successes in by-elections the Liberals had expected to win, concluding with victory in Southwark , normally a Liberal stronghold. The cabinet had resolved to wait before dissolving Parliament; in early March they reconsidered, agreeing to go to the country as soon as possible. Parliament was dissolved on 24 March; the first borough constituencies began voting a week later.
Disraeli took no public part in the electioneering, it being deemed improper for peers to make speeches to influence Commons elections. This meant that the chief Conservatives—Disraeli, Salisbury, and India Secretary Lord Cranbrook —would not be heard from. The election was thought likely to be close. Once returns began to be announced, it became clear that the Conservatives were being decisively beaten. The final result gave the Liberals an absolute majority of about 50.
FINAL MONTHS, DEATH, AND MEMORIALS
Disraeli refused to cast blame for the defeat, which he understood
was likely to be final for him. He wrote to Lady Bradford that it was
just as much work to end a government as to form one, without any of
Returning to Hughenden, Disraeli brooded over his electoral dismissal, but also resumed work on Endymion , which he had begun in 1872 and laid aside before the 1874 election. The work was rapidly completed and published by November 1880. He carried on a correspondence with Victoria, with letters passed through intermediaries. When Parliament met in January 1881, he served as Conservative leader in the Lords, attempting to serve as a moderating influence on Gladstone's legislation.
Suffering from asthma and gout, Disraeli went out as little as possible, fearing more serious episodes of illness. In March, he fell ill with bronchitis, and emerged from bed only for a meeting with Salisbury and other Conservative leaders on the 26th. As it became clear that this might be his final sickness, friends and opponents alike came to call. Disraeli declined a visit from the Queen, saying, "She would only ask me to take a message to Albert." Almost blind, when he received the last letter from Victoria of which he was aware on 5 April, he held it momentarily, then had it read to him by Lord Barrington , a Privy Councillor . One card, signed "A Workman", delighted its recipient, "Don't die yet, we can't do without you."
Despite the gravity of Disraeli's condition, the doctors concocted
optimistic bulletins, for public consumption. The Prime Minister,
Gladstone, called several times to enquire about his rival's
condition, and wrote in his diary, "May the Almighty be near his
pillow." There was intense public interest in the former Prime
Minister's struggles for life. Disraeli had customarily taken the
sacrament at Easter; when this day was observed on 17 April, there was
discussion among his friends and family if he should be given the
opportunity, but those against, fearing that he would lose hope,
prevailed. On the morning of the following day, Easter Monday, he
became incoherent, then comatose. Disraeli's last confirmed words
before dying in the early morning of 19 April were "I had rather live
but I am not afraid to die". The anniversary of Disraeli's death is
now commemorated in the
Disraeli's executors decided against a public procession and funeral,
fearing that too large crowds would gather to do him honour. The chief
mourners at the service at Hughenden on 26 April were his brother
Ralph and nephew Coningsby, to whom Hughenden would eventually pass.
Disraeli is buried with his wife in a vault beneath the Church of St Michael and All Angels which stands in the grounds of his home, Hughenden Manor, accessed from the churchyard. There is also a memorial to him in the chancel in the church, erected in his honour by Queen Victoria. His literary executor was his private secretary, Lord Rowton. The Disraeli vault also contains the body of Sarah Brydges Willyams , the wife of James Brydges Willyams of St Mawgan in Cornwall. Disraeli carried on a long correspondence with Mrs. Willyams, writing frankly about political affairs. At her death in 1865, she left him a large legacy, which helped clear up his debts. His will was proved at £84,000.
Disraeli has a memorial in Westminster Abbey . This monument was erected by the nation on the motion of Gladstone in his memorial speech on Disraeli in the House of Commons. Gladstone had absented himself from the funeral, with his plea of the press of public business met with public mockery. His speech was widely anticipated, if only because his dislike for Disraeli was well known, and caused the Prime Minister much worry. In the event, the speech was a model of its kind, in which he avoided comment on Disraeli's politics, while praising his personal qualities.
Disraeli's literary and political career interacted over his lifetime and fascinated Victorian Britain, making him "one of the most eminent figures in Victorian public life", and occasioned a large output of commentary. Critic Shane Leslie noted three decades after his death that "Disraeli's career was a romance such as no Eastern vizier or Western plutocrat could tell. He began as a pioneer in dress and an aesthete of words.... Disraeli actually made his novels come true."
Title page of first edition of Sybil (1845)
Blake comments that Disraeli "produced an epic poem, unbelievably
bad, and a five-act blank verse tragedy, if possible worse. Further he
wrote a discourse on political theory and a political biography, the
Life of Lord George Bentinck, which is excellent ... remarkably fair
and accurate." But it is on his novels that Disraeli's literary
achievements are generally judged. They have from the outset divided
critical opinion. The writer R. W. Stewart observed that there have
always been two criteria for judging Disraeli's novels—one political
and the other artistic. The critic Robert O'Kell, concurring, writes,
"It is after all, even if you are a
Disraeli's early "silver fork" novels Vivian Grey (1826) and The Young Duke (1831) featured romanticised depictions of aristocratic life (despite his ignorance of it) with character sketches of well-known public figures lightly disguised. In some of his early fiction Disraeli also portrayed himself and what he felt to be his Byronic dual nature: the poet and the man of action. His most autobiographical novel was Contarini Fleming (1832), an avowedly serious work that did not sell well. The critic William Kuhn suggests that Disraeli's fiction can be read as "the memoirs he never wrote", revealing the inner life of a politician for whom the norms of Victorian public life appeared to represent a social straitjacket—particularly with regard to what Kuhn sees as the author's "ambiguous sexuality".
Of the other novels of the early 1830s, Alroy is described by Blake as "profitable but unreadable", and The Rise of Iskander (1833), The Infernal Marriage and Ixion in Heaven (1834) made little impact. Henrietta Temple (1837) was Disraeli's next major success. It draws on the events of his affair with Henrietta Sykes to tell the story of a debt-ridden young man torn between a mercenary loveless marriage and a passionate love-at-first-sight for the eponymous heroine. Venetia (1837) was a minor work, written to raise much-needed cash.
In the 1840s Disraeli wrote a trilogy of novels with political themes. With Coningsby; or, The New Generation (1844), Disraeli, in Blake's view, "infused the novel genre with political sensibility, espousing the belief that England's future as a world power depended not on the complacent old guard, but on youthful, idealistic politicians." Coningsby was followed by Sybil; or, The Two Nations (1845), another political novel , which was less idealistic and more clear-eyed than Coningsby; the "two nations" of its sub-title referred to the huge economic and social gap between the privileged few and the deprived working classes. The last in Disraeli's political novel trilogy was Tancred; or, The New Crusade (1847), promoting the Church of England's role in reviving Britain's flagging spirituality.
Disraeli's last completed novels were Lothair (1870) and Endymion (1880). The first, described by Daniel R Schwarz as "Disraeli's ideological Pilgrim\'s Progress ", is a story of political life with particular regard to the roles of the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches. Endymion, despite having a Whig as hero, is a last exposition of the author's economic policies and political beliefs. Disraeli continued to the last to pillory his enemies in barely disguised caricatures: the character St Barbe in Endymion is widely seen as a parody of Thackeray , who had offended Disraeli more than thirty years earlier by lampooning him in Punch as "Codlingsby". Disraeli left an unfinished novel in which the priggish central character, Falconet, is unmistakably a caricature of Gladstone.
In the years after Disraeli's death, as Salisbury began his reign of
more than twenty years over the Conservatives, the party emphasised
the late leader's "One Nation " views, that the Conservatives at root
shared the beliefs of the working classes, with the Liberals the party
of the urban élite. Disraeli had, for example, stressed the need to
improve the lot of the urban labourer. The memory of Disraeli was used
by the Conservatives to appeal to the working classes, with whom he
was said to have had a rapport. This aspect of his policies has been
re-evaluated by historians in the 20th and 21st centuries. In 1972 B H
Abbott stressed that it was not Disraeli but Lord Randolph Churchill
who invented the term "
Disraeli's enthusiastic propagation of the
During his lifetime Disraeli's opponents, and sometimes even his friends and allies, questioned whether he sincerely held the views he propounded, or whether they were adopted by him as essential to one who sought to spend his life in politics, and were mouthed by him without conviction. Lord John Manners, in 1843 at the time of Young England, wrote, "could I only satisfy myself that D'Israeli believed all that he said, I should be more happy: his historical views are quite mine, but does he believe them?" Blake (writing in 1966) suggested that it is no more possible to answer that question now than it was then. Nevertheless, Paul Smith , in his journal article on Disraeli's politics, argues that Disraeli's ideas were coherently argued over a political career of nearly half a century, and "it is impossible to sweep them aside as a mere bag of burglar's tools for effecting felonious entry to the British political pantheon."
Stanley Weintraub , in his biography of Disraeli, points out that his
subject did much to advance Britain towards the 20th century, carrying
one of the two great Reform Acts of the 19th despite the opposition of
his Liberal rival, Gladstone. "He helped preserve constitutional
monarchy by drawing the Queen out of mourning into a new symbolic
national role and created the climate for what became '
Frances Walsh comments on Disraeli's multifaceted public life:
The debate about his place in the Conservative pantheon has continued since his death. Disraeli fascinated and divided contemporary opinion; he was seen by many, including some members of his own party, as an adventurer and a charlatan and by others as a far-sighted and patriotic statesman. As an actor on the political stage he played many roles: Byronic hero, man of letters, social critic, parliamentary virtuoso, squire of Hughenden, royal companion, European statesman. His singular and complex personality has provided historians and biographers with a particularly stiff challenge.
Historical writers have often played Disraeli and Gladstone against each other as great rivals. Roland Quinault, however, cautions us not to exaggerate the confrontation:
they were not direct antagonists for most of their political careers.
Indeed initially they were both loyal to the
Peel shown as
Gladstone on donkey representing reform is held back by Disraeli aided by the English Working Man, 1866 *
Derby and Disraeli outflank and "dish" their opponents, 1867
Disraeli and Gladstone as Box and Cox , 1870 *
Disraeli as the man in white paper in
Through the Looking-Glass
Disraeli's ghost overshadowing Lord Randolph Churchill , 1886
WORKS BY DISRAELI
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* v * t * e
* Vivian Grey (1826) * Popanilla (1828) * The Young Duke (1831) * Contarini Fleming (1832) * Ixion in Heaven (1832/3) * The Wondrous Tale of Alroy (1833) * The Rise of Iskander (1833) * The Infernal Marriage (1834) * Henrietta Temple (1837) * Venetia (1837) * Coningsby , or the New Generation (1844) * Sybil , or The Two Nations (1845) * Tancred , or the New Crusade (1847) * Lothair (1870) * Endymion (1880) * Falconet (unfinished 1881)
* The Revolutionary Epick (1834)
* The Tragedy of Count Alarcos (1839)
* An Inquiry into the Plans, Progress, and Policy of the American Mining Companies (1825) * Lawyers and Legislators: or, Notes, on the American Mining Companies (1825) * The present state of Mexico (1825) * England and France, or a Cure for the Ministerial Gallomania (1832) * What Is He? (1833) * The Vindication of the English Constitution (1835) * The Letters of Runnymede (1836) * Lord George Bentinck (1852)
NOTES AND REFERENCES
* ^ The street was renamed some time after 1824 as Theobald\'s Road
; a commemorative plaque marks the current 22
Theobald's Road as
* ^ Disraeli's mother's ancestors included Isaac Aboab , the last
Gaon of Castille, the Cardoso family (among whose members were Isaac
Cardoso and Miguel Cardoso ), the Rothschilds , and other prominent
families; Disraeli was described in
* ^ Pierpoint, Robert. "Kingsway" Notes and Queries, 26 August
1916, p. 170
* ^ A B Blake (1967), p. 3
* ^ "Disraeli, Benjamin, Earl of Beaconsfield, 1804–1881" English
Heritage, accessed 20 August 2013
* ^ Richmond and Smith, p. 121
* ^ A B Blake (1967), p. 6
* ^ A B Wolf, Lucien. "The Disraeli Family", The Times, 21 December
1904, p. 12
* ^ Glassman, p. 32
* ^ Bradford, p. 1
* ^ Bradford, p. 6
* ^ A B C Blake (1967), p. 11
* ^ Monypenny and Buckle, p. 19
* ^ Parry, p. 1
* ^ Hibbert, p. 8
* ^ Ridley, p. 18
* ^ Kuhn, p. 25
* ^ A B Blake (1967), p. 12
* ^ A B Bradford, p. 7
* ^ Endelmann, p. 107
* ^ Blake (1967), p. 10
* ^ A B Bradford, p. 8
* ^ Richmond and Smith, p. 23
* ^ Glassman, p. 38
* ^ Disraeli (1975), p. 145
* ^ A B Davis, pp. 8–9
* ^ Blake (1967), p. 18; and Bradford, p. 11
* ^ Blake (1967), pp. 18–19; and Bradford, p. 11
* ^ Monypenny and Buckle, p. 31
* ^ A B Glassman, p. 100
* ^ Conacher, J B. "Peel and the Peelites, 1846–1850", The
English Historical Review, July 1958, p. 435 (subscription required)
* ^ Gash, p. 387.
* ^ "General Election", The Times, 3 July 1832, p. 3; "General
Election", The Times, 13 December 1832, p. 3; "Mr. D'Israeli and Mr.
O'Connell", The Times, 6 May 1835, p. 3; "The Conservatives of
Buckinghamshire", The Times, 17 October 1837, p. 3; "Election
* Abbott, B. H. (1972). Gladstone and Disraeli. London: Collins.
ISBN 0-00-327210-9 .
* Aldous, Richard (2007) . The Lion and the Unicorn: Gladstone vs
Disraeli (first American ed.). New York: W W Norton & Company. ISBN
* Blake, Robert (1967) . Disraeli. New York: St Martin's Press. OCLC
* Blake, Robert (1982). Disraeli's Grand Tour:
* Anonymous (1873). Cartoon Portraits and Biographical Sketches of
Men of the Day. Illustrated by Frederick Waddy. London: Tinsley
Brothers. pp. 38–45. Retrieved 13 September 2013.
* Bright, J. Franck. A History Of England. Period 4: Growth Of
Democracy: Victoria 1837-1880 (1893)online 608pp; highly detailed
* Carter, Nick (June 1997). "Hudson, Malmesbury and Cavour: British
Diplomacy and the Italian Question, February 1858 to June 1859". The
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* Endelman, Todd M (May 1985). "Disraeli's Jewishness Reconsidered".
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* Ghosh, P R (April 1984). "Disraelian Conservatism: A Financial
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* Hurd, Douglas; Young, Edward (2013). Disraeli or The Two Lives.
London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson.
* Ković, Miloš (2011). Disraeli and the Eastern Question. Oxford:
* St. John, Ian. The Historiography of Gladstone and Disraeli (Anthem Press, 2016) 402 pp excerpt
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