Page:Some aspects of the Victorian age.djvu/29

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25
THE VICTORIAN AGE

Of another and a still more interesting incident in the campaign Oxford was again the scene. It was in the autumn of 1864. A meeting was to be held under the presidency of the Bishop in this very Theatre where we are assembled to-day. Its ostensible purpose was to advocate the claims of a Society for endowing Small Livings. Some weeks before the Bishop had invited the attendance of Mr. Disraeli—then leader of the Opposition in the House of Commons—in the character of an eminent layman of the Diocese. The appointed day (it was in the month of November) arrived: the Theatre was packed: the Bishop was in the Chair. Mr. Disraeli, attired (as we are told) in a black velvet jacket and a light-coloured waistcoat, with a billy-cock hat in his hands, sauntered in, as if he were paying a surprise visit to a Farmers' Ordinary. At the request of the Chairman, he got on his feet, and proceeded to deliver, with that superb nonchalance in which he was unrivalled among the orators of his day, one of his most carefully prepared and most effective speeches. Indeed among all his speeches, leaving aside his prolonged duel with Sir Robert Peel in the forties, I myself should select it as the one which best displays his characteristic powers, and their equally characteristic limitations: irony, invective, boundless audacity of thought and phrase, the thrill or the shock when least expected, a brooding impression of something which is neither exactly sentiment nor exactly imagination but has a touch of both, a glittering rhetoric, constantly hovering over the thin boundary line which divides eloquence and bombast. First he pulverized, to the complete satisfaction of the supporters of better endowed Small Livings,