BE A'C O N S F I E L D Mr Powles, whom he had enlisted for the enterprise, was velvet trousers, a canary-coloured waistcoat, low shoes, to have had a similar share on the same conditions. silver buckles, lace at his wrists, and his hair in ringlets. Neither seems to have paid up, and that, perhaps, had to The description of the coat is forgotten. “We sat down. do with the quarrel which parted Benjamin Disraeli and Not one of us was more than five-and-twenty years old. John Murray before a sheet of the luckless Representative We were all—if you will allow me to include myself—on was printed. Many years afterwards (1853) Disraeli took the road to distinction, all clever, all ambitious, and all an active interest in The Press, a weekly journal of con- with a perfect conceit of ourselves. Yet if on leaving the table we had been severally taken aside and asked which siderable merit but meagre fortunes. At the death of the elder Benjamin (1817), his son was the cleverest of the party, we should have been obliged Isaac had moved from the King’s Road, Gray’s Inn (now to say ‘the man in the green velvet trousers.’” This Theobald’s Road), to No. 6 Bloomsbury Square. Here he story is a little lamp that throws much light.. Here we entertained the many distinguished friends, literary and see at their sharpest the social prejudices that Disraeli had political, who had been drawn to him by his “ Curiosities ” to fight against, provocation of them carried to its utmost and other ingenious works, and here his son Benjamin also in every way open to him, and complete conquest in a had their acquaintance and conversation. In Bloomsbury company of young men less likely to admit superiority in Square lived the Austens, and to their house, a great a wit of their own years, probably, than any other that resort of similar persons, Mrs Austen cordially welcomed could have been brought together at that time. Soon after the publication of Vivian Grey, Disraeli, him. Murray’s friendship and associations helped him in like manner, no doubt; and thus was opened to Disraeli the who is said by Froude to have been “overtaken by a younger a world in which he was to make a considerable stir. singular disorder,” marked by fits of giddiness (“once he The very much smaller society of that day was, of course, fell into a trance, and did not recover for a week ”), went more comprehensible to sight and hearing, when once you with the Austens on a long summer tour in France, Switzwere within its borders, than the society of this. Reverbera- erland, and Italy. Returning to a quiet life at Bradenham tions of the gossip of St James’s and Mayfair extended —an old manor-house near High Wycombe, which his to Bloomsbury in those days. Yet Disraeli’s range of father had taken — Disraeli put law in abeyance and observation must have been not only brief but limited resumed novel-writing. His weakest book, and two or when he sat down at twenty or twenty-one to three other productions, brief, but in every literary sense “ Viyl^n write Vivian Grey. It is therefore a probable the finest of his works, were written in the next two or conjecture that Mrs Austen, a clever woman three years. But for Ixion in Heaven, The Infernal of the world, helped him from her knowledge. His Marriage, and Popanilla, Disraeli could not be placed own strongly perceptive imagination (the gift in which among the greater writers of his kind; yet none of his he was to excel every other politician of his time) and the imaginative books have been so little read as these. The bent of political reading and aspiration from boyhood mysterious malady continued, and Disraeli set out with Travel. completed his equipment; and so the wonder that so William Meredith, who was to have married young a man in Disraeli’s social position should write Sarah Disraeli, for a tour in southern Europe a book like Vivian Grey is accounted for. It was and the nearer East. He saw Cadiz, Seville, Granada, published in 1826. The success of this insolently clever Athens, Constantinople, Jerusalem, Cairo, Thebes; played novel, the immediate introduction of its author to the the corsair with James Clay on a yacht voyage from Malta great world, and the daring eccentricities of dress, de- to Corfu; visited the terrible Reschid, then with a Turkish meanour, and opinion by which he fixed attention on army in the Albanian capital; landed in Cyprus, and left himself there, have always been among the most favourite it with an expectation in his singularly prescient mind that morsels of Disraeli’s history. With them it began, and the island would one day be English. These travels must successive generations of inquirers into a strange career have profited him greatly, and we have our share of the and a character still shrouded and baffling refer to them advantage; not so much, however, in The Wondrous Tale as settled starting-points of investigation. What was the of Alroy or Tancred, or the “ Revolutionary Epic ” which man who, in such a society and with political aspirations he was inspired to write on “ the windy plains of Troy,” to serve, could thrive by such vagaries as these, or in spite but in the letters he sent home to his sister. These letters, of them? If unaffected, what is to be thought of them written with the utmost freedom and fulness to the one as keys to character? If affected, what then? Inquiry whose affection and intellect he trusted more than any, still takes this shape, and when any part of Disraeli’s are of the greatest value for interpreting the writer. career is studied, the laces and essences, the rings over Together with other letters also published some time after gloves, the jewelled satin shirt-fronts, the guitareries and Disraeli’s death, they tell more of him than anything that chibouqueries of his early days are never remote from can be found in print elsewhere. They show, for example, memory. The report of them can hardly be doubted; that his extraordinary exuberances were unforced, leaping and as the last relation was made (to the writer of this by natural impulse from an overcharged source. They article) not with intent to ridicule Mr Disraeli’s taste but also show that his Oriental fopperies were not so much to illustrate his conquering abilities, the story is repeated “purposed affectation” as Froude and others have surhere. One of Disraeli’s first friends in the world of fashion mised. That they were so in great part is confessed and genius was Sir Edward Lytton Bulwer. “ And,” said again and again in these letters, but confessed in such a Sir Henry Bulwer (“Pelham’s” brother), “we heard so way as to reveal that they were permitted for his own much at that time of Edward’s amazingly brilliant new enjoyment of them as much as planned. The “purposed friend that we were the less inclined to make his acquaint- affectation ” sprang from an unaffected delight in gauds of ance.” At length, however, Sir Edward got up a little attire, gauds of fancy and expression. It was not only to dinner-party to convince the doubters. It was to meet at startle and impress the world that he paraded his eccenthe early hour of those days at one of the Piccadilly hotels. tricities of splendour. His family also had to be impressed “ There was my brother, Alexander Cockburn, myself, and by them. It was to his sober father that he wrote, at the (I think) Milnes; but for a considerable time no Mr age of twenty-six: “I like a sailor’s life much, though it Disraeli. Waiting for Mr Disraeli did not enhance the spoils the toilette.” It is in a letter from Gibraltar to the pleasure of meeting him, nor when he did arrive did his same hand that we read of his two canes—“ a morning appearance predispose us in his favour. He wore green and an evening cane ”—changed as the gun fires. And 176
Page:1902 Encyclopædia Britannica - Volume 26 - AUS-CHI.pdf/208
This page needs to be proofread.