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BEACONSFIELD

from first to last) on the enormous importance to the country, to the character of its people no less than to its material welfare, of agricultural contentment and prosperity; and he also obtained As leader in the House of Commons. a more general recognition of the fact that “the land” had borne fiscal burdens under the old régime which were unfair and unendurable under the new. So far he did well; and when in 1852 he took office as chancellor of the exchequer in Lord Derby’s first administration, the prospect was a smiling one for a man who, striving against difficulties and prejudices almost too formidable for imagination in these days, had attained to a place where he could fancy them all giving way. That, however, they were not. New difficulties were to arise and old prejudices to revive in full force. His first budget was a quaint failure, and was thrown out by a coalition of Liberals and Peelites which he believed was formed against Mr Disraeli more than against the chancellor of the exchequer. It was on this occasion that he exclaimed, “England does not love coalitions.” After a reign of ten months he was again in Opposition, and remained so for seven years. Of the Crimean War he had a better judgment than those whose weakness led them into it, and he could tell them the whole truth of the affair in twenty words: “You are going to war with an opponent who does not want to fight, and whom you are unwilling to encounter.” Neither were they prepared; and the scandals and political disturbances that ensued revealed him as a party leader who could act on such occasions with a dignity, moderation and sagacity that served his country well, maintained the honour of party government and cost his friends nothing. The mismanagement of the war broke down the Aberdeen government in 1855, and then Disraeli had the mortification of seeing a fortunate chance of return to office lost by the timidity and distrust of his chief, Lord Derby—the distrust too clearly including the under-valuation of Disraeli himself. Lord Derby wanted Lord Palmerston’s help, Mr Gladstone’s, Mr Sidney Herbert’s. This arrangement could not be made; Lord Derby therefore gave up the attempt to form a ministry and Lord Palmerston came in. The next chance was taken in less favouring times. The government in which Disraeli was again financial minister lasted for less than eighteen months (1858-1859), and then ensued another seven years in the cold and yet colder shade of Opposition. Both of these seven-year outings were bad, but the second by far the worse. Parliamentary reform had become a burning question and an embarrassing one for the Tory party. An enormous increase of business, consequent upon the use of steam machinery and free-trade openings to commerce, filled the land with prosperity, and discredited all statesmanship but that which steered by the star over Manchester. Mr Gladstone’s budgets, made possible by this prosperity, were so many triumphs for Liberalism. Foreign questions arose which strongly excited English feeling—the arrangements of peace with Russia, Italian struggles for freedom, an American quarrel, the “Arrow” affair and the Chinese war, the affair of the French colonels and the Conspiracy Bill; and as they arose Palmerston gathered into his own sails (except on the last occasion) every wind of popular favour. Amid all this the Tory fortunes sank rapidly, becoming nearly hopeless when Lord Palmerston, without appreciable loss of confidence on his own side, persuaded many Tories in and out of parliament that Conservatism would suffer little while he was in power. Yet there was great despondency, of course, in the Conservative ranks; with despondency discontent; with discontent rancour. The prejudice against Disraeli as Jew, the revolt at his theatricalisms, the distrust of him as “mystery man,” which up to this time had never died out even among men who were his nearest colleagues, were now more openly indulged. Out of doors he had a “bad press,” in parliament he had some steady, enthusiastic friends, but more that were cold. Sometimes he was seen on the front Opposition bench for hours quite alone. Little conspiracies were got up to displace him, and might have succeeded but for an unconquerable dread of the weapon that destroyed Peel. In this state of things he patiently held his ground, working for his party more carefully than it knew, and never seizing upon false or discrediting advantages. But it was an extremely bad time for Benjamin Disraeli.

Though Lord Palmerston stumbled over his Foreign Conspiracy Bill in 1858, his popularity was little damaged, and it was in no hopeful spirit that the Tories took office again in that year. They were perilously weak in the House of Commons, and affairs abroad, in which they had small practice and no prestige, were alarming. Yet the new administration did very well till, after resettling the government of India, and recovering from a blunder committed by their Indian secretary, Lord Ellenborough, they must needs launch a Reform Bill to put that dangerous question out of controversial politics. The well-intended but fantastic measure brought in for the purpose was rejected. The country was appealed to, with good but insufficient results; and at the first meeting of the new parliament the Tories were turned out on a no-confidence vote moved by Lord Hartington. Foreign affairs supplied the motive: failure to preserve the peace of Europe at the time of the Italian war of independence. It is said that the foreign office had then in print a series of despatches which would have answered its accusers had they been presented when the debate began, as for some unexplained reason they were not. Lord Palmerston now returned to Downing Street, and while he lived Disraeli and his colleagues had to satisfy themselves with what was meant for useful criticism, though with small hope that it was so for their own service. A Polish insurrection, the Schleswig-Holstein question, a commercial treaty with France, the Civil War in America, gave Disraeli occasions for speech that was always forcible and often wiser than all could see at the time. He never doubted that England should be strictly neutral in the American quarrel when there was a strong feeling in favour of the South. All the while he would have gladly welcomed any just means of taking an animated course, for these were dull, dark days for the Conservatives as a parliamentary party. Yet, unperceived, Conservatism was advancing. It was much more than a joke that Palmerston sheltered Conservative principles under the Liberal flag. The warmth of his popularity, to which Radical applause contributed nothing in his later days, created an atmosphere entirely favourable to the quiet growth of Conservatism. He died in 1865. Earl Russell succeeded him as prime minister, Mr Gladstone as leader of the House of Commons. The party most pleased with the change was the Radical; the party best served was Disraeli’s. Another Reform Bill, memorable for driving certain good Liberals into a Cave of Aduilam, broke up the new government in a few months; Disraeli contributing to the result by the delivery of opinions not new to him and of lasting worth, though presently to be subordinated to arguments of an inferior order and much less characteristic. “At this rate,” he said in 1866, “you will have a parliament that will entirely lose its command over the executive, and it will meet with less consideration and possess less influence.” Look for declining statesmanship, inferior aptitude, genius dying off. “Instead of these you will have a horde of selfish and obscure mediocrities, incapable of anything but mischief, and that mischief devised and regulated by the raging demagogue of the hour.” The Reform legislation which promised these results in 1866 was thrown out. Lord Derby’s third administration was then formed in the summer of the same year, and for the third time there was a Tory government on sufferance. Its followers were still a minority in the House of Commons; an angry Reform agitation was going on; an ingenious resolution founded on the demand for an enlarged franchise serviceable to Liberals might extinguish the new government almost immediately; and it is pretty evident that the Tory leaders took office meaning to seek a cure for this Reform Bill of 1867. desperate weakness by wholesale extension of the suffrage. Their excuses and calculations are well known, but when all is said, Lord Derby’s statement of its character, “a leap in the dark,” and of its intention, “dishing the Whigs,” cannot be bettered. Whether Lord Derby or Mr Disraeli originated this resolve has been much discussed, and it remains an unsettled question. It is known that Disraeli’s private secretary, Mr Ralph Earle, quarrelled with him violently at about this time; and Sir William Fraser relates that, meeting