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569
BEACONSFIELD

the instincts of many Englishmen, and, for the time, revived the prejudices against its author. More important was the revival of disturbances in European Turkey, which, in their outcome, were to fill the last chapter of Disraeli’s career. But for this interruption it is likely that he would have given much of his attention to Ireland, not because it was an attractive employment for his few remaining years, but because he saw with alarm the gathering troubles in that country. And his mind was strongly drawn in another direction. In a remarkable speech delivered in 1872, he spoke with great warmth of the slighting of the colonies, saying that “no minister in this country will do his duty who neglects any opportunity of reconstructing as much as possible our colonial empire, and of responding to those distant sympathies which may become the source of incalculable strength and happiness to this island.” However, nothing was done in fulfilment of this duty in the first two years Eastern question. from 1874, and early in the third the famous Andrassy note, the Berlin memorandum, the Bashi-Bazouk atrocities, and the accumulative excitement thereby created in England, reopened the Eastern question with a vengeance. The policy which Disraeli’s government now took up may be truly called the national policy. Springing from the natural suggestions of self-defence against the march of a dangerous rivalry, it had the sanction of all British statesmanship for generations, backed by the consenting instinct of the people. It was quite unsentimental, being pro-Turkish or anti-Russian only as it became so in being pro-British. The statesmen by whom it was established and continued saw in Russia a power which, unless firmly kept within bounds, would dominate Europe; more particularly that it would undermine and supersede British authority in the East. And without nicely considering the desire of Russia to expand to the Mediterranean, the Pacific or in any other direction, they thought it one of their first duties to maintain their own Eastern empire; or, to put it another way, to contrive that Great Britain should be subject to Russian ascendancy (if ever), at the remotest period allowed by destiny. Such were the ideas on which England’s Russian policy was founded. In 1876 this policy revived as a matter of course in the cabinet, and as spontaneously, though not upon a first provocation, became popular almost to fury. And furiously popular it remained. But a strong opposing current of feeling, equally passionate, set in against the Turks; war began and lasted long; and as the agitation at home and the conflict abroad went on, certain of Disraeli’s colleagues, who were staunch enough at the beginning, gradually weakened. It is certainly true that Disraeli was prepared, in all senses of the word, to take strong measures against such an end to the war as the San Stefano treaty threatened. Rather than suffer that, he would have fought the Russians in alliance with the Turks, and had gone much farther in maturing a scheme of attack and defence than was known at the time or is commonly known now. That there was a master motive for this resolution may be taken for granted; and it is to be found in a belief that not to throw back the Russian advance then was to lose England’s last chance of postponing to a far future the predominance of a great rival power in the East. How much or how little judgment shows in that calculation, when viewed in the light of later days, we do not discuss. What countenance it had from his colleagues dropped away. At the end their voices were strong enough to insist upon the diplomatic action which at no point falls back on the sword; Lord Derby (foreign minister) being among the first to make a stand on that resolution, though he was not the first seceder from the government. Such diplomacy in such conditions is paralytic. It cannot speak thrice, with whatever affectation of boldness, without discovering its true character to trained ears; which should be remembered when Disraeli’s successes at Berlin are measured. It should be remembered that what with the known timidity of his colleagues, and what with the strength and violence of the Russian party in England, his achievement at Berlin was like the reclamation of butter from a dog’s mouth; as Prince Bismarck understood in acknowledging Disraeli’s gifts of statesmanship. It should also be remembered, when his Eastern policy in 1876-1878 is denounced as malign and a failure, that it was never carried out. Good or bad, ill or well calculated, effective existence was denied to it; and a man cannot be said to have failed in what he was never permitted to attempt. The nondescript course of action which began at the Constantinople conference and ended at Berlin was not of his direction until its few last days. It only marked at various stages the thwarting and suppression of his policy by colleagues who were haunted night and day by memories of the Crimean War, and not least, probably, by the fate of the statesmen who suffered for its blunders and their own. Disraeli also looked back to those blunders, and he was by no means insensible to the fate of fallen ministers. But just as he maintained at the time of the conflict, and after, that there would have been no Crimean War had not the British government convinced the tsar that it was in the hands of the peace party, so now he believed that a bold policy would prevent or limit war, and at the worst put off grave consequences which otherwise would make a rapid advance.

As if aware of much of this, the country was well content with Disraeli’s successes at Berlin, though sore on some points, he himself sharing the soreness. Yet there were great days for him after his return. At the Berlin conference he had established a formidable reputation; the popularity he enjoyed at home was affectionately enthusiastic; no minister had ever stood in more cordial relations with his sovereign; and his honours in every kind were his own achievement against unending disadvantage. But he was soon to suffer irretrievable defeat. A confused and unsatisfactory war in Afghanistan, troubles yet more unsatisfactory in South Africa, conspired with two or three years of commercial distress to invigorate “the swing of the pendulum” when he dissolved parliament in 1880. Dissolution the year before would have been wiser, but a certain pride forbade. The elections went heavily against him. He took the blow with composure, and sank easily into a comparative retirement. Yet he still watched affairs as a great party leader should, and from time to time figured vigorously in debate. Meanwhile he had another novel to sit down to—the poor though highly characteristic Endymion; which, to his great surprise and equal pleasure, was replaced on his table by a cheque for ten thousand pounds. Yet even this satisfaction had its tang of disappointment; for though Endymion was not wholly written in his last days, it was in no respect the success that Lothair was. This also he could bear. His description of his grandfather recurs to us: “A man of ardent character, sanguine, courageous and fortunate, with a temper which no disappointment could disturb.”

As earl of Beaconsfield (failing health had compelled him to take refuge in the House of Lords in 1876) Benjamin Disraeli died in his house in Curzon Street on the 19th of April 1881. The likelihood of his death was publicly known for some days before the event, and then the greatness of his popularity and its warmth were declared for the first time. No such demonstration of grief was expected even by those who grieved the most. He lies in Hughenden churchyard, in a rail-enclosed grave, with liberty for the turf to grow between him and the sky. Within the church is a marble tablet, placed there by his queen, with a generous inscription to his memory. The anniversary of his death has since been honoured in an unprecedented manner, the 19th of April being celebrated as “Primrose Day”—the primrose, for reasons impossible accurately to define, being popularly supposed to have been Disraeli’s favourite flower. Even among his friends Death and influence. in youth (Sir Edward Lytton Bulwer, for example), and not improbably among the city men who wagered their money in irrecoverable loans to him on the chance of his success, there may have been some who compassed the thought of Benjamin Disraeli as prime minister and peer; but at no time could any fancy have imagined him remembered so enduringly as Lord Beaconsfield has been. It is possible that Sarah Disraeli (the Myra of Endymion), or that “the most severe of critics but a perfect wife,” may have had such dreams—hardly that they could have occurred to any mind but a devoted woman’s. Disraeli’s life was a succession of surprises, but none