Page:1902 Encyclopædia Britannica - Volume 26 - AUS-CHI.pdf/209

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page needs to be proofread.


BEACOJSTSFIELD the same correspondent must be told that “ Ralph’s handkerchief which he brought me from Paris is the most successful thing I ever wore.” When Disraeli returned to England in 1831, all thought of the law was abandoned. The pen of romance was again taken up—the poet’s also and the poliproduc- tician’s. In the next five years he wrote tion. Contarini Fleming, the Revolutionary Epick, Alroy, Henrietta Temple, What is He ? (a pamphlet expository of his opinions), the Runnymede Letters, a Vindication of the British Constitution, and other matter of less note. The epic, begun in great hope and confidence, was ended in less, though its author was to the last unwilling that it should be forgotten. The novels revived the success he had with Vivian Grey, and restored him to his place among the brilliancies and powers of the time. The political writing, too, much of it in a garish, extravagant style, exercised his deeper ambitions, and stands as witness to the working of original thought and foresight. Both qualities are conspicuous in What is He ? and the Vindication, of which it has been truly said that in these pages he “ struck the keynote to the explanations he afterwards consistently offered of all his apparent inconsistencies.” Here an interpretation of Tory principles as capable of running with the democratic idea, and as called upon to do so, is ingeniously attempted. The aristocratic principle of government having been destroyed by the Reform Bill, and the House of Lords being practically “ abrogated ” by that measure, it became necessary that Toryism should start from the democratic basis, from which it had never been alien. The filched liberties of the Crown and the people should be restored, and the nation redeemed from the oligarchies which had stolen from both. When at the beginning of all this writing Disraeli entered the political arena as candidate for High Wycombe (1832), he was nominated by a Tory and seconded by a Radical—in vain; and vain were two subsequent attempts in the autumn of 1832 and in 1834. In the first he was recommended to the electors by Daniel O’Connell and the Radical Hume. In his last candidature at Wycombe he stood on more independent ground, commending himself by a series of speeches which fully displayed his quality, though the prescience which gemmed them with more than one prophetic passage was veiled from his contemporaries. Among Disraeli’s great acquaintances were many—Lyndhurst at their head—whose expectations of his future were confirmed by the Wycombe speeches. He was “thought of” for various boroughs, Marylebone among the number, but his democratic Toryism seems to have stood in his way in some places and his inborn dislike of Radicalism in others. It was an impracticable situation—no getting on from it; and so, at Lyndhurst’s persuasion, as he afterwards acknowledged, he determined to side with the Tories. Accordingly, when in the spring of 1835 a vacancy occurred at Taunton, Disraeli contested the seat in the Tory interest with Carlton Club support. Here again he failed, but with enhanced reputation as a fighting politician and with other consequences good for notoriety. It was at Taunton that Disraeli fell upon O’Connell, rather ungratefully; whereupon the Liberator was roused to retort on his assailant vehemently as “ a liar,” and humorously as a probable descendant of the impenitent thief. And then followed the challenge which, when O’Connell declined it, was fastened on his son Morgan, and the interruption of the duel by seizure of Mr Disraeli in his bed, and his famous appearance in the Marylebone police court. He declared himself very well satisfied with this episode, but nothing in it can really have pleased him, not even the noise it made. Here the first period of Disraeli’s public life came to an i

177

end, a period of preliminaries and flourishes, and of what he himself called sowing his political wild oats. It was a more mature Disraeli who in the general election of 1837 was returned for Maidstone as the paw/a* colleague of his providential friend Mr Wyndham ment. Lewis. Though the fortunes of the Tory party were fast reviving under Peel’s guidance, the victory was denied him on this occasion; but, for once, the return of the Whigs to power was no great disappointment for the junior member for Maidstone. To gain a footing in the House of Commons was all that his confident spirit ever asked, and Froude vouches for it that he succeeded only just in time to avert financial ruin. His electioneering ventures, the friendly backing of bills, and his own expense in keeping up appearances, had loaded him with debt. et (mark his worldly wisdom) “he had never entangled his friends in his financial dealings. He had gone frankly to the professional money-lenders, who made advances to him in a speculation on his success ” : they were to get their money back with large interest or lose it altogether. Such conditions were themselves incitement enough to a prompt redemption of the promise of parliamentary distinction, even without the restless spurring of ambition. And Disraeli had another promise to redeem: that which he uttered when he told O’Connell that they would meet again at Philippi. Therefore when, three weeks after the session began, a debate on Irish election petitions gave him opportunity, Disraeli attempted that first House of Commons speech which imagination still dwells upon as something wondrous strange. That he should not have known better, even by hearsay, than to address the House of Commons in fantastic phrase from the mouth of a fantastic figure is indeed remarkable, but not that he retained self-confidence enough to tell the unwitting crew who laughed him down that a time would come when they would hear him. It was one of the least memorable of his prophecies. The speech was a humiliating but not an oppressive failure. In about a week afterwards he spoke again, which shows how little damage he felt, while the good sense, brevity, and blameless manner of the speech (on a Copyright Bill) announced that he could learn. And for some time thereafter he affected no importance in the House, though not as withdrawing from attention. Meanwhile, consciously and unconsciously, as is the way with men of genius, his mind was working upon problems of government, the magnitude, the relations, and the natural developments of which he was more sensible of than any known politician of his time. “Sensible of,” we say, to mark the difference between one sort of understanding and another which comes of labour and pains alone. Disraeli studied too, no doubt, reading and inquiring and applying set thought, but such means were insufficient to put into his mind all that he found there. It seems that opinions may be formed of inquiry and study alone, which are then constructive; but where intuitive perception or the perceptive imagination is a robust possession, the fruits of research become assimilative—the food of a divining faculty which needs more or less of it according to the power of divination. The better judgment in all affairs derives from this quality, which has some very covetable advantages for its possessor. His judgments may be held with greater confidence, which is an intellectual advantage; and, standing in his mind not so much an edifice as a natural growth, they cannot be so readily ^^aLerabandoned at the call of ease or self-interest. /s,/cs. They may be denied assertion or even outraged for a purpose, but they cannot be got rid of,—which is a moral advantage. Disraeli’s mind and its judgments were of this character. Its greatest gift was not the romantic S. II. —23