Page:Modern Parliamentary Eloquence.djvu/36

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Modern Parliamentary Eloquence

second volume of Monypenny's Life, are almost unequalled in the annals of Parliamentary invective, and though a few, like the comparison of the Liberal Government at Manchester in April, 1872, to a range of exhausted volcanoes on the South American coast, belong to English literature, I always heard from those who remembered Disraeli even in his prime that he was not an orator either by nature or art. Many of his speeches, particularly in earlier times, were bombastic and dreary; and he did not, except in later years, when wrapped in the prestige of his triumphant career, easily place himself in touch with his audience. But there was an air of expectancy whenever he spoke: men were on the look-out for the jewelled phrase, the exquisite epigram, the stinging sneer. He was like the conjurer on a platform, whose audience with open mouths awaited the next trick. Now and then he soared to genuine eloquence, as when, in April, 1865, in an atmosphere of breathless silence, he passed a eulogium of unusual simplicity on Mr. Cobden, and described him as one of those members of Parliament "who, though not present in the body, are still members of this House, independent of dissolutions, of the caprice of constituencies, even of the course of time."

In both Chambers Mr. Disraeli's characteristic pose was that of a statuesque and Sphinx-like immobility on the bench. I have seen him sitting hour after hour while Mr. Gladstone or some other opponent was thundering at him, motionless, with his arms crossed, his eyes apparently closed, and not a flicker of emotion on his pallid countenance. Sometimes he would murmur a word to Lord John Manners or an old friend. An illustration of his sardonic and disconcerting method was told me by my uncle, Sir Wilfrid Lawson; it was the occasion when, Mr. Gladstone having more than once repeated the phrase "The Right Hon. Gentleman and his satellites," and having then paused or momentarily lost the thread of his argument, Disraeli rose and amid a hushed House remarked in dulcet tones, "the last word was satellites!"

I heard his speech in the House of Lords on the Afghan